Art makes life

Artist Isaias Crow explaining the letter-character technique in his painting "Joy"

One thing that he’s learned, says local artist Crol, is “intention.” When he was 13, local San Diego-based artist Isaias Crow, or Crol, started tagging and bombing his hometown streets of El Paso, Texas.

“My intention was, ‘I’m gonna F-ing ruin this space.’ Like I had this very dark energy towards the way I looked at it,” says Crol.
“I think it was too much of my ego on the wall,” he recalls, noting that his art wasn’t a protest against injustice or political corruption. “It wasn’t about nothing. It was about me, and how I felt inside, and I wanted to project that out. And so I had all this poison that I wanted to distribute.”

Crol has come a long way, transforming negative intention into self-reflection and art-making. His new collection “C.R.O.L.O.S.” is the culmination of four years of painting, drawing and experimentation. The show, which opens Saturday, April 7, at Santos Fine Art Gallery in Encinitis with workshops and lectures scheduled throughout the month of April, traces the path from introspection to creation.

Like much of his work, Crol’s current project explores the ego. For the graffiti artist, the ego inspires not only form but content. Perfecting a stylized inscription of your name is a rite of passage. In art school, Crol began to explore the process of making letters that are characters.


Pictographic lettering is an artistic tradition going back centuries and common in graffiti art, and one that inspired Crol to think about his own style and form.
Crol spent years doing sketches, researching lettering and art traditions, and writing stories imagining the personalities and physical characteristics of his letter-characters.

After producing a series of drawings that looked like Mayan glyphs with decorative armor, Crol turned inward with introspective questions:

“What’s the point of all this? he recalls asking himself. “What’s the point of writing your name over and over again all over the streets?” His research soon turned into contemplation about himself and his inner drives and motivations.

“And then,” Crol recalls, “it became, ok, who’s the guy Crol? And why do I have that name? All these questions.”

El Paso-Albuquerque-Dallas- Albuquerque

Crol grew up in El Paso, Texas in the 1980s-90s, and started painting in middle school with his best friend Werc. Together they sharpened their skills and developed their styles:

“Graffiti is very competitive. So that’s one thing I grew up with—you’re here to smoke each other out. Like I’m gonna beat you no matter what, in style, in size and everything,” Crol recalls.
“Werc and I had a very competitive friendship growing up—I would take one side of the street, and Werc would take the other, and at the end of the day, we would decide who was the winner.”

When he learned he was going to be a father, his plans to go to art school were put on hold, and Crol took up the call to be the provider. “That’s what everyone was telling me,” Crol recalls. “You need to provide, and let go of this idea that you are an artist.”

Thankfully, art was not something Crol was willing to forget. Crol moved to Albuquerque where he worked for his sister and brother-in-law in construction, and his best friend Werc soon followed him there. The two continued to paint together, and as Crol puts it, “Six months became years.” When an opportunity came up for a construction job in Dallas, Crol and his family and his friend Werc packed up and moved together, living there for seven years. There Crol and Werc met Marka27, and developed a strong bond of friendship and artistic collaboration.

After moving back to Albuquerque, Crol’s partner announced that for her, the marriage was over. As Crol recalls, this was a huge blow to his ego, and a turning point that pushed him toward more introspection.

“It’s a blow to my ego,” Crol explains, “because you know as a graffiti artist, you are so about ego, and all of a sudden my girlfriend’s leaving me. And I’m all, “How’s that gonna look?”

Art & energy work: back to the basics

Finding himself alone and suddenly without the mooring of family and wife, Crol sought direction in painting. His friend Werc, who had moved to San Diego earlier, invited him to come. Crol moved to San Diego, and after a stint working in an electronics store, Crol was ready to get serious again about painting and producing art. He started art school, finishing his B.A. in Media Arts and Animation at the Art Institute of San Diego in 2009.

Now the creative process was beginning to activate emotions and impulses that Crol had earlier expressed through street graffiti and bombing.

“So, by that time,” Crol recalls, “not only am I going through this personal voyage of looking inside of me, but then, because of that, I started creating this sense of upheaval for people outside of me.”

Crol recalls a gradual process of self-awareness, a desire to become a better person. “Because I was going through so much inside, and I think confronting those things inside of me I think then I started projecting that out to other people, and really – not being careful around other people, ‘not being too kind,’ to put it nicely.”

For Crol, the energy work and the creative work go hand in hand. Through painting, Crol explores the shifting dynamics of darkness and light, joy and anger, rage and control that are submerged but ever present in the ego.

“Because of doing graffiti, my ego was so big, so huge, there was no way of getting around it,” says Crol. “It was just so present, so in my face.”

Crol with Irene and Galaxy

Exploring his ego, Crol began to see its many facets, and learned to see the beauty there. “The ego within me is very present, but also love within me is very present. My spirit is very present. Going within me, and learning about my ego, and seeing how decorated and beautiful it is, but also seeing how damaging it can be sometimes– understanding that and accepting that was very difficult for me.”

Growing up in a home where domestic violence was a powerful reality that generated powerful emotions stimulated Crol to paint. By the time he was 13, Crol was bombing on the streets of El Paso, expressing the anger and frustration he kept bottled up at home.

Crol looks to the dualism in his parents to explain the tension he feels between a powerful ego drive and a desire to nurture and protect others.

“It seems like a paradox because my mom and my dad were very abusive to each other, but when it came to other people, they were very giving, very nurturing.”

Crol’s community work in San Diego bears witness to his transformational process of creation and exploration of the self. In recent years, Crol has participated in projects at Chicano Park and the Centro Cultural de la Raza, painted murals on local elementary schools. He has developed what he calls the Prism Process, a series of local, community-based art projects getting community members involved in creating art to make an impact on their own homes, schools and environments.

Crol currently teaches art classes at the Art Academy of San Diego, a process he says is like “social work” or “energy work.” Looking back, Crol sees this as a shift from negative to positive in his intention. “I started doing whatever it is that I can offer my services for,” he notes, “to create a positive impact. And having a mom and three older sisters was like having four moms,” says Crol. “Four women looking out for me, taking care of me, nurturing me. Picking up from what I learned from them, it was natural.”

Bombing in the streets?

Working with students, Crol often finds himself at the center of the ongoing debate about illegal painting versus legal, commissioned art. While he acknowledges that there’s something extremely vital and essential about tagging and bombing in the streets, Crol explains that his own process has led him to stop from painting illegally.

But rather than pass judgment or tell students what to do, Crol asks questions:

“So and that’s what I tell my students,” says Crol. “What is your intention? What is your own? Not what you read in a magazine, not a movie that you saw on graffiti, no. What is your own personal reason for doing it? And then out of that you can choose.”

“And that’s because graffiti means a different thing to each person I talk to,” adds Crol. “The more I talk to different artists, and graffiti artists, I find that’s really true. We have similar reasons, but everybody has a different upbringing. And that upbringing’s going to affect your graffiti, it’s going to affect how your translate yourself onto the wall.”


For Crol, art and artists play an essential role in society, like philosophers or teachers. And street art is no different. Whether legal or illegal, street art represents a vital and genuine response to the conditions of our everyday life.

“It’s expression, it’s alive,” Crol notes. “You see it on the walls, those letters are moving, and they just are alive.”
And like the art in the streets, Crol’s project expresses a vitality born out of introspection and reflection.

“So four years later, now I’m finally bringing these into light,” says Crol. “And sharing these pieces that are meaning all these different facets that I go through. There’s days where there’s joy, there’s days where there’s love, just depends.”

And for Crol, painting seems to put him right where he belongs.
“That’s another thing that I notice now—I’m so at peace, so tranquil when I’m painting.

“I know I can just chill, and it’s in these moments in time when I’m painting.”


C.R.O.L.O.S. 2012 opens Saturday, April 7

C.R.O.L.O.S. 2012
Santos Fine Art
978 North Coast Hwy 101
Tel. 760-633-1644

The gallery will also be giving out 50 limited edition 17×12 inch posters matted to 16×20 frame ready, FREE to the first 50 people that attend the opening reception. The exhibit is a month long with two opportunities to meet yours truly at both the opening and closing reception.


One Comment

  1. Santos Fine Art Galleries says:

    Thank you Jill Holslin for supporting the arts and culture of San Diego

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