Before him is a blank canvas that measures approximately six by four feet. Behind him are hundreds of people who have gathered to watch him work.
As a familiar ballad resonates from the stage speakers, several onlookers clap encouragingly. Some peer curiously. Others sit in silence. Without warning, Israel crouches, spinning his lithe body in a full circle before catapulting high into the air, arms extended, legs splayed. With the precision of a heart surgeon wielding a scalpel sharper than Bill Maher’s wit, he spatters fire-engine-red acrylic paint across the once-stark cloth. In one swift movement, the artist lands, exhibiting the grace of a feline. He grabs a lower corner of the canvas and spins it upside down.
That’s how the piece begins. It ends, unbeknownst to most in the audience, less than four minutes later, with the vast majority of onlookers on their feet, screaming wildly…others in tears.
Skeptics may scoff that it’s unlikely someone could produce something of creative worth in less time than it takes to order a burger and fries. Nevertheless the fact that he completes a piece in minutes is impressive.
Israel — who has performed internationally on location in Monaco, Dublin, Athens, Tokyo and more—recently decided to capture his work, along with the audience, on camera for a DVD, Art Outburst. It will feature Israel creating an estimated twelve pieces.
So what is it about Israel’s work that inspires the likes of George W. to commission a portrait?
Describing what he does for a living is easy: He paints pictures, such as actors, musicians, athletes, and predictable patriotic images — nothing any of us hasn’t seen before. But explaining how he does it is another story. And trying to verbalize the range of emotions involved in actually witnessing his artistry is something even the artist admits finding difficult.
“Nothing communicates the emotion or the passion that you’ll feel when you actually see a show,” Israel says from his North Miami studio. “The goosebumps that come up on your arms, and the tears that run down your face. It’s an amazing experience, and to try to explain it … people think, No, it can’t really be that good.”
Israel’s first foray into the art world ended in relative disaster. Or at least what a toddler might call disaster — namely a slap on the rear. Before relocating with his newly married mother to Miami at age two, Israel lived in his native Queens. He recalls a photo snapped at the family home that depicts him with a crayon in hand, drawing on the wall.
“My mother was my first art critic,” he laughs. “She walked up to me, looked at the picture, and then slapped me on the butt and said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again.’ It’s been parental revenge ever since.”
After graduating from high school, Israel perfected his craft traveling around the nation. Although he attended a number of art-related classes at various academic institutions, including the University of Miami, he considers himself largely self-taught. Over the past three decades, he has adopted a style all his own.
Combining his passion for martial arts — he has a black belt in karate and trains up to six times per week — with painting, he spins, twirls, and jumps around with the energy of a hyperactive four-year-old, in time to a thundering soundtrack. Sometimes he turns the canvas on its head to create suspense (his specially mounted canvases can be spun 360 degrees), or he might produce a piece in less than a minute. But wherever he’s booked, be it corporate events, casinos, festivals, et cetera, he razzle-dazzles audiences with a brush-slinging frenzy of color and showmanship unlike any other.
Fans of his work have paid as much as $75,000 for a piece. There is even a year-long waiting list to snag one of Israel’s live works.
Among his most popular pieces is Hero, a man-size painting honoring 9/11 rescue workers — with a stunning back story soon to come to life in a piece he calls The Story.
And I must admit, while watching the videotape of him creating the piece along with Enrique Iglesias cooing his sultry “Hero” ballad, I did feel a tear well up.