Michael Israel doesn’t mind getting dirty.
Described as Cirque Du Soleil meets Picasso, the artist will perform in Reno at Birdies & Brushes, a fundraiser for the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum and the Reno-Tahoe Open Foundation.
As loud music plays, Israel leaps as he splashes paint across a canvas, often flipping a painting right side up to reveal the subject of the canvas to a cheering crowd.
He has painted world leaders to pop stars from Warren Buffett to Michael Jackson. He will paint six portraits in Reno, ending by painting former Nevada state Sen. Bill Raggio, who died in February.
Israel answered questions about his art, his performance and getting dirty.
Question: It’s well known that you auction off your paintings for charity, but you have even auctioned off your shoes and tuxedo at a fundraiser. What did you wear home?
Answer:I realized the show was something magical when I caught a woman going through a dumpster after one of my shows to get the rags I used to wipe my hands. People get so into a show that they want to be a part of it. I am mystified and marveled at the audiences when they want to have some part of the experience. I know now to bring an extra set of clothes with me.
Q: What happens when you are having a bad day?
A:It happens quite often and I don’t think I want to paint. But then I warm up and once the music starts, I feel it.
Q: How do you warm up?
A:I stretch and do jumping jacks.
Q: What do you eat before and after a show?
A:Before not much. Some chocolate and coffee. The show is a performance, so I’m hungry after a show. It’s comparable to marathon.
Q: If you could have anyone paint you who would it be?
A:Leonardo da Vinci is my No. 1. Both da Vinci and Picasso because they both stretched the boundaries of what the norm of art should be.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A:That my onstage and live action art is one medium but I do other art. I do everything from pencil sketches to building a room-sized remote controlled robot. I work with airbrush and photoshop as much as I work with paint and paintbrushes. People are most surprised at the metal work I do.
Michael Israel Performance at Susquehanna Health Event in Williamsport, PA on 2/18/12 / provided to the RGJ by Michael D. Davis/Photo by
Q: What’s your favorite place to perform?
A:The next place. I love the next challenge because you never know what you are going to get. Mostly every place is about the people and who you meet.
Q: What do you want from an audience?
A:It’s an interesting situation because they cheer and shout. It’s not a quiet art exhibit. An involved audience is never an issue. It’s hard to explain unless you have seen it. It’s a powerful experience to have people cheering at the top of their lungs and tears running down their face. People feel connected to it. They tell me they have goose bumps. It’s like a religious revelation to some.
I know it is something special when people who have never bought anything more than a poster are fighting to buy something that costs thousands.
Q: Is there someone you want to paint but haven’t yet?
A:Each new painting is an adventure. There is no one in particular. It’s all exciting from presidents to Donald Trump.
Q: With so many schools cutting art programs, what should the community and families do to encourage new talent?
A:It’s unfortunate because art is what make us human. Pretty much everything you do is art in some way and it’s just a combination of your intellect and wisdom.
There is certainly a balance because you shouldn’t be doing it all the time. Encourage it but don’t get ridiculous. There is a difference between just making a mess and making art.