Dispatches from the Field: The Electronic Life of an Expat


Visual artist Jeffrey Isaac is a guy who has been around the block err, world. He was born in ’50s New York, grew up in Switzerland, and earned a B.F.A. form Rhode Island School of Design and London’s Camberwell School of Art. While he has lived in Umbria since 1986, a more isolated existence hasn’t slowed his creative process — recent work ranges from digital media to oil on canvas. After the jump Isaac paints us an image of his life in Italy, and explains why images of local patron saints should always be fully clothed.

“I left New York City 23 years ago as a cultural refugee. I’d paid my dues and realized my youthful dreams — played at the Mudd Club, published a magazine, had a one-man show, ran a gallery, curated performance art, etc. But then it was time to focus; making art in New York was like dining in a supermarket. I was ready for a different world and “mystical” Umbria is noted for its hermits.

“I live on a hilltop near Spoleto, home of the Festival of Two Worlds. Over the years, directly and indirectly, it has brought many performing and visual artists to the area. Founded in the fifties by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, it had been in geriatric decline until his death at 95 in 2007. Under new management, there’s hope for its revival.

“Much has changed here since I arrived but far from everything. The landscape is eternal and exquisitely beautiful — except for the new highway. The people are sincere and straight-forward, but prejudiced against recent eastern immigrants. The new mega-stores are displacing the mom-and-pop variety — but they are convenient. And now we have broadband.

“I could be almost anywhere. My days begin and end on the internet. The siren call of cyberspace accompanies me from first perusals during my morning ablutions to my nodding off with my ear plugged into internet radio. For a decade now my artwork has all been filtered through my computer. Images are prepared, subject matter is researched, finished work is divulged. The underlying process is the same — the electronic tools help amplify it. I exhibit internationally and locally. But I’ve had to learn to be careful locally. I got into trouble a few years ago at a nearby event when I presented a painting of the local patron saint naked.

“I look out my window and see the same glowing hills at twilight that Giotto saw — but unlike him, I can check my email while taking a break from my brushes.”

For more information on Isaac, visit his Web site www.jeffreyisaac.com.