ACTION ARTIST MAKES LEAP THROUGH HIS ‘HERO’ PAINTING
ULIBARRI de RIVERA
Mar 26, 2008
With a flick of both wrists, Michael Israel rids the excess paint from the brushes in his hands while an audience of hundreds watches him transform a large, blank canvas into a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
As music blares, he jumps to reach the top of the 6-foot canvas, spins it around, tosses the paintbrushes and dips his hands in the paint.
“This is where my notoriety comes from right now, from action art,” said the Delray Beach resident, who operates out of a Boca Raton studio. “I do it to move people.”
He feels most at home when he is performing for a worthy cause and moving people to give to that cause. But, Israel, 48, also performs at corporate events to be able to keep up the work he does through his charitable organization. He travels the world to perform.
In most cases, by the time he’s done creating his latest work — while he’s still wearing paint in his long black hair and the canvas paint is still wet — it has already sold.
What has really launched Israel into international fame is his Hero painting.
“It started as a 9/11 tribute,” said Israel of the moving piece of a New York City firefighter holding a child in front of an American flag. “But it’s not really about firefighters and it’s not about 9/11.
“It’s about the universal law of people doing things for other people. There is a hero built in all of us.”
He will next perform Hero in Washington D.C. at the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s 20th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 3. A week later, his Heroes and Icons concert tour, in which he also paints iconic figures such as Michael Jordan, John Lennon and Bono, takes him to Indiana, where his performance will benefit the People’s Burn Foundation.
By the end of May he will have performed in 10 different states for charity and done countless corporate engagements.
“I’m so busy right now, I keep thinking I’m going to run into myself somewhere,” he said.
But Israel said he believes in also supporting organizations close to home. He has an upcoming local gig to benefit the Boca Raton Parent’s Association.
Israel estimates he started painting when he was about 2 years old, right about the time his family moved from his native Queens, N.Y., to South Florida.
“I started by painting on the walls,” said Israel, who grew up on a houseboat in Hollywood.
Although he loved art, it was overshadowed by his growing passion for karate, which he began to practice when he was 8.
“It was my total devotion at the time,” he said.
Israel enrolled in the liberal arts program at the University of Miami, where he would occasionally create posters for his classmates’ dorms in order to pay for pizza, but his devotion was still karate.
“I think I only went to college because it was close to the karate school,” he said.
At one point, Israel had three of his own karate schools, one of which had his studio next door.
Eventually, he started attending art festivals, where he would set up three or four easels, crank up the music and paint on the spot.
“Huge crowds of people started to gather around me,” he remembered.
Although he stills practices karate, and martial arts has a lot to do with how he creates his work, Israel’s art has taken center stage, as well as making money for charities, which continue to solicit him. He estimates he has helped raise more than $1 million for charities so far.
“It’s not about how high you jump,” he said. “It’s about how high everyone else jumps.”