I am, I would put up three or four
[canvases] at a time and do them all
at once,” he says. “I would crank up
the tunes and pretty soon I’d be in
the zone. I guess it’s no different than
somebody out at a club dancing or
doing something else that you could
just completely lose yourself in. But
for me, things got done. The paintings
almost seemed like they just happened.
And one day when I looked over my
shoulder, there was a crowd back as far
as I could see.”
Just like that, Israel says, something
clicked. This was his act.
Like other young artists, Israel was hitting the art festival circuit hard. The
days were long—often starting at 4
a.m.—and often not all that exciting.
But visitors soon discovered Israel’s
special talent: He could paint really
fast. They would ask him to paint their
house, or their dog, and Israel would
deliver exactly what they wanted.
Amazingly, he was able to do so within
One day, Israel decided to try something a little different.
“Being the impatient person that
Empower the Audience
In the years since, he’s simply taken
that festival experience and blown it up.
He’s made it bigger and louder, more
sensational and more moving. To see a
Michael Israel presentation today is to
see a Vegas-sized spectacle.
But Israel, who has one daughter
from a previous marriage and is currently engaged to marry again, insists it’s
really not about the music, or the lights,
or even the paint flying around the stage.
It’s still about his message. With his
shows, Israel wants to make his audience
He wants to empower them.
“It’s been a developmental process
over the years,” he says. “I would do one
HOW FAST IS FAST?
thing and the crowd would enjoy it. So
I started adding lights and bigger music
systems, different kinds of music, different kinds of painting, different feelings that can range from very emotional
to very energetic. It’s pretty cool. I can
bring the audience to an intellectual and
emotional experience. I can empower
people in a lot of ways. You take a group
of scientists, or engineers or doctors—
these are stiff crowds, supposedly, and
you’re not going to move them, right?
But then at the end they’re really getting
into things. And that can really get them
excited about what they do.”
In other words, Israel is a sort of
motivational speaker—a unique one, of
course. But an effective one, too, even
though he doesn’t use words.
And Israel really doesn’t understand
why anyone would question that.
“I don’t see the difference between
them [speaking and my act],” Israel
says. “If you’re talking about [speak-ing] as a craft, I just use a different tool.
It’s like painter vs. speaker vs. sculptor
vs. writer—but the spirit underlying the
goal of the craft is the same. You’re trying to communicate an idea and some
emotion. At the end of the day, when
you go to see a speaker, you’re going
there for the purpose of getting something—some knowledge or some communication. If there were no communication, if the speaker didn’t speak, it
wouldn’t mean anything. But a stroke
of paint or music, it’s the same thing. It
Michael Israel has been commissioned to do works by numerous corporations, non-
profit groups and charitable organizations. But few of those commissions have gen-
erated quite as much press as the portrait Israel completed of super-investor Warren
Buffett this past spring in just 10 minutes.
The portrait of Buffett, renowned chairman of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc., will
be auctioned off this fall to benefit the charity Girls Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to
“inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”
Speed has long been a hallmark of Israel’s style, and is a key facet of his perfor-
mances, in which he often manages to create several pieces at the sam e time. In a
benefit for an elder services group this May, for instance, Israel raised ,000 by
painting, in a single performance, portraits of John Lennon, The Beatles, Muhammad
Ali, the Statue of Liberty, Bono, a fireman and American Eagle.
Israel credits his martial arts practice for helping him develop the stamina and
speed to do his artwork very rapidly and yet very accurately.
Tim Hyland has been a
professional writer and editor
for 10 years. His work has
appeared in numerous
publications, including Fast
Company, Philadelphia City Paper and
Philadelphia Life. Tim lives in Flourtown,
Pa., and can be reached at timothyhylan d@