Stabs and dabs ; Performance artist brings 3-D show to Market Square
DOGWOOD ARTS FESTIVAL AT MARKET SQUARE
April 11 2004
Artist Michael Israel has a black belt in karate and was a Grand National Champion at 17. He can break a stack of bricks with his hands. But he isn’t sure how he can snap a 1-inch-thick oak brush handle while he’s painting.
“I destroy the brushes,” says Israel, who will bring his unique “3-D Art in Concert” performance to the Dogwood Art Festival.
“I’ve had a brush with round handles over 1-inch-thick snap during performances, and I wonder how I did that. I couldn’t do it if I wanted to, black belt or not.”
Israel, 44, approaches painting like Jackie Chan approaches a gang of thugs — by jumping, spinning and lashing out with tremendous speed. The end result is the creation of pop art that leaves audiences cheering the seemingly effortless execution of a skill developed through years of discipline and training.
“I train six days a week,” Israel says. “I’m probably the only artist in the world who has to stretch for 15 minutes before painting so I don’t pull a groin muscle.”
Israel will paint several canvases during an hour-long performance at the Dogwood Arts Festival Opening Celebration on Friday, April 16, at Market Square. His performance will begin at approximately 7 p.m.
Part fine artist, part razzle-dazzle showman, Israel creates paintings on large, often spinning canvases before crowds of thousands at festivals, casinos, corporate affairs, wherever he’s booked.
In minutes, and to thundering musical accompaniment, Israel’s brush-slinging, fingers-smearing attack on a man-size canvas produces a portrait of a celebrity, an animal, a whimsical landscape, or maybe an image created specifically for an event (his past gigs have included the Winter Olympics, the Playboy 50th- anniversary party, and a dinner for President George W. Bush).
Sometimes he paints the image upside down or sideways to keep the audience guessing. His specially mounted canvases can be spun 360 degrees while he works
Israel tells audiences what he is about to paint. The surprise, he says, is when his manic daubs and splatters finally gel into a recognizable image.
“If you have no clue what this guy on stage is doing while music is playing and paint is flying,” he says, “then there is no anxiety inside about what it’s going to be when it’s completed.
“But if I turn around and say I will paint a Frank Sinatra portrait in five minutes, and (then) it doesn’t look like any Frank Sinatra you’ve ever seen, and you see that time is running out, it creates a little anxiety. You’ve got a thrill going on in addition to the motion and everything else.”
The Dogwood Arts Festival performance will include “Hero,” a tribute to people who risk their lives to help others. Israel originally created “Hero” to honor rescue workers following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Knoxville performance will also include the premiere of a new work that has Israel simultaneously painting six canvases, which will be put together puzzle-like when completed to reveal a single image.
The seed of the “3-D Art in Concert” performances was planted years ago when Israel took his work to art festivals.
When he had sold all the canvases he brought with him, the artist would “crank up the radio” and make more, sometimes “painting two or three at a time, with multiple brushes and paint cans,” he says.
Israel says, “the faster I could paint, the more I could sell.” And the more driving the beat of the music, “the easier it was to move,” he says.
“It’s like a dance almost,” he says of the performance-art style he developed. “It’s like you’re in the artwork.”
The music helps him move, but Israel says he draws energy from the audience as he works. Working alone in a studio is “stagnant,” he says.
Audiences cheer, scream and cry at his performances. Israel says seeing him paint is an experience that will “stay with you for the rest of your life.” And, technically great or not, the artist has no modesty about his work or his future place in art history.
“I guarantee my works will become classics,” he says, “and people will look back at them 10,000 years from now, and they’ll hold meaning.”