Knoxville TN — Part-Jackie Chan, part-Jackson Pollock, 100 percent rock god — charismatic performance artist and martial arts master Michael Israel inspires the sort of fan worship that has audience members rushing the stage to retrieve his dripping, discarded paintbrushes as souvenirs.
Israel brought his projectile painting style to Friday night’s Dogwood Arts Festival Opening Ceremony at Market Square.
He took the stage at approximately 7:20 p.m. for an hourlong “3-D Art in Concert” performance in which the former martial arts champion jumped, twisted and lunged with paintbrushes clenched in both fists, forcefully slinging paint at canvases, or sometimes smearing it on with his hands and fingers, to mega-decibels of blaring music that ranged from KISS’s “Rock and Roll All Night” and Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”
Sometimes he spun the canvases, painting upside down or sideways, as he kept the audience guessing what the final image would be. He began with a portrait of John Lennon, finished in six minutes to the tune of the former Beatles’ songs “Instant Karma” and “Imagine.”
The fastest painting was a five-canvas puzzle that the artist said he was attempting for the first time. He set a completion goal for himself of one-minute, 45 seconds. When the task was done, apparently on time, he rearranged canvases to reveal a dogwood blossom and the words “Dogwood Arts Festival.”
The Miami-based artist donated the work to the festival, sold at auction after the performance, raising over $100,000 in donations. He offered the paintings he created in performance — which included portraits of Kiss rocker Gene Simmons, the Statue of Liberty and “Hero,” a patriotic tribute to firefighters — for sale to the highest bidders.
Betty Fields and her daughter Mary Jane Hinton, both of Knoxville, showed up at 4 p.m. to catch Israel’s show.
Despite the long wait, they ended up with an obstructed view at the back of the crowd. Spotting Israel pre-show, they appealed to him for better seats, and he had them placed in front of the front- row VIP section reserved for Dogwood Arts Festival donors
Fiels, a former employee of the downtown Social Security office, was back in downtown Knoxville for the first time since retiring in December. By police estimate, she was one of approximately 1,000 people on the square during Israel’s performance.
“I asked him if he was going to take his shirt off like he did in the paper,” she said. A sexy, shirtless performance shot of the 44- year-old artist had appeared earlier in the News Sentinel, inspiring the mother and daughter to take in the show.
The shirt did come off. at the end of the performance. “For the ladies who asked,” said the artist, who threw the paint-splattered shirt into the crowd.
Israel was the featured attraction of a program that included opening remarks by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.
“I’m fully responsible for the weather tonight,” Haslam quipped to the sun-drenched crowd at the Market Square performance pavilion.”