In Studio with Isaac Payne

IP4Isaac Payne’s latest series, “Intersections,” will be on exhibit at Charlotte’s New Gallery of Modern Art, 435 S. Tryon St., from April 10 through May 31. Opening reception is Friday, April 10th at 5 pm. Call 704-373-1464 to RSVP.

As a former artist-in-residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Payne’s work will be featured at the McColl Center’s Studio Party 15: Upcycled Gala on Saturday, April 18 from 7 – 10 pm. Click on the link to purchase tickets to this art sale and fundraiser.

The Suggested Narrative of Place: In the Studio with Isaac Payne

IP2Isaac Payne’s art studio is the same kind of intentionally constructed environment found in his signature collage paintings of the urban landscape. Here is the same careful consideration of angle and light; the attention to texture, color and mood; the same spirit of openness and improvisation that I realize, after talking to Isaac, comes from a place of deep intellectual curiosity and a love of jazz.

“We live in a human-centric world,” Isaac tells me and photographer Lindsay Wynne Hess, on our recent afternoon visit for HappeningsCLT.The environments we create for ourselves can be well thought out, considered. Or they can be frenetic, where it seems we have very little control. I’m interested in the fidelity of the experience. What persists, what doesn’t? What is a fiction and what must we hold on to?

His studio sits at the top of a steep staircase in a home that he and his artist wife Jenny gutted, redesigned, and renovated. It’s clear that beautiful, functional spaces are valued here. The studio is remote enough to accommodate late night, crank-up-the-music work sessions, but close enough to enjoy the spontaneity of life with two young children.


It is an unpretentious, welcoming place for visitors, but there are spatial tensions in the room that dominate. The ceiling is vaulted, aloof; the windows are high and out of reach. A cold, concrete floor riffs with the worn, green and wood chairs that seem right out of George Bailey’s office in the Bedford Falls Building and Loan. An antique table-turned-paint-palette is thick with muted color; and layers of ink-stained paper, artifacts from earlier projects, wait to be repurposed in collage.

Isaac works mostly on paper, with various combinations of charcoal, ink and paint. This enables him to bring to his collages “all the elements and surfaces, all the blocks of texture” and to manipulate transitions from one part of the work to another.


“In any constructed environment, a city block or a building, there are layers and layers of history,” he says. Not just in terms of what the architecture has replaced, but history within the structure itself – the layers of paint, the lives of the people. In a world that changes so much, I want to capture a moment in time for a given place, then animate it in your mind.”

In Isaac’s studio and in his paintings, objects do have agency. The manufactured seeks the organic. The new, in all of its urgency and indifference, finds proximal comfort in what has come before.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the far wall of the studio, a wide open space where Isaac works on the majority of his in-progress pieces. The latest works are now framed and ready for delivery to the New Gallery and McColl Center for upcoming shows. What’s left behind on the wall are the colorful outlines of previous works, empty frames spread out to form their own ghost city skyline. An accidental, yet self-referential, nod to Isaac’s use of urban landscapes as the basis for his work.

IP6      IP5

“Things aren’t always how we want them to be or how we think they should be,” he tells me. We need to deal with that. My art is a process of inquiry, a formal exploration versus a reality. I am always pushing out to the edges, trying to find those idiosyncratic textures and marks that can co-exist and tell us something new.”

These are ideas that Isaac has been exploring since he was growing up in Tacoma, WA. His father was an engineer, so there was plenty of talk of structural integrity of the built space. His mother was involved in their community, both socially and politically, so Isaac was always conscious of the human dimension in the constructed environment.” However, his collage paintings are less about making a political or social statement, and more about generating conversations that are both internal (within the mind and beliefs of the viewer) and external (artist and viewers in community).


We finish our talk, reflecting on the absence of a beginning, middle or end in his work. You gaze into the painting, your eye is drawn to wherever it feels it must go, and you take off from there. It’s the difference between a prescribed narrative that you might find in a traditional story, and a suggested narrative – the kind of intense and immediate sensory experience found in poetry, or the jazz music he loves so much. It’s through the creation of these images – layered, structured and improvisational – that Isaac Payne is helping us see our urban landscape and ourselves – in a new light.

by Lisa Rubenson, writer, art-lover and contributor to HappeningsCLT.

All photos (c) Lindsay Wynne Photography.

3 thoughts on “In Studio with Isaac Payne

  1. Pingback: DAILY: Artist Interviews | HappeningsCLT

  2. Pingback: Studio Party 16! | HappeningsCLT

  3. Pingback: DAILY: Gala roundup | HappeningsCLT

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