Boca Raton painter/performer/karate black belt Micheal Israel -- he of the ripped abs, the flowing mullet, and the paint-splattered jeans -- has landed two slots performing at Obama's inauguration: on the 19th at Virginia's Inaugural Black Tie & Blue Dominion Ball ($1,000 per ticket) at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and on the 20th at the Veterans' Ball at the St. Regis Hotel (where Israel's hoping Obama will pop in).
When we first heard of Israel a few years ago, we had no idea what to make of the guy. Was this a wannabe Steven Seagal? Fabio with a paintbrush? But after watching a video, he won us over. Israel spins his canvas upside-down, sweeps his brush around in a fury as though he's dancing, leaps up to smack paint a corner, and somehow ends up with an iconic image -- usually in under eight minutes. Because he makes the paintings in front of live audiences, "it's a one-shot, race the clock situation," he told New Times. And it's the craziest thing to watch -- "Like a religious rally, without the religion," Israel said. There's no place for modesty in these performances.
After the jump, Israel's painting plans for Washington and the fastest Muhammed Ali painting you've ever seen.
Israel has to develop choreography for each painting he invents, otherwise "if I'm an eighth of an inch off in the wrong spot, somebody's cross-eyed!" Onstage, though, he zones out and loses himself in the moment. His paintings have sold for as much as $250,000 -- but because he usually donates them to charity events when he performs, he comes off as a serious philanthropist.
For the inaugural balls in Washington this month, Israel has designed a triptych of three paintings -- The Statue of Liberty, the President-elect, and an eagle -- which, when placed side by side, combine to look like an American flag. His imagery -- usually of patriotic scenes or 60s rock idols -- might not be the thing we'd choose to put over our living room couch, but we gotta say -- it takes talent. Look only at the comments on his YouTube for witnesses who say that watching him drove them to tears.
Here is a video of Israel painting Muhammad Ali -- on an upside-down canvas, in three minutes flat.
-- Deirdra Funcheon