In many ways Israel’s art can be understood as emerging from his Los Angeles-based life, and it is often referred to as a portrait of LA. This Californian city, with its vibrant film and pop culture, serves as source material, subject matter and muse for his art, in which he appropriates, transforms and comments on elements of the city’s aesthetic and spirit.
Israel draws inspiration from the American media and film industry, and creates paintings, sculptures and installations that also include elements from talk shows and performance art. In his iconic interview show As it LAys the artist, always wearing his trademark sunglasses, interviews B-listed or passé Hollywood celebrities, from Melanie Griffith to Paul Anka. In a profoundly monotonous manner he asks them questions ranging from the banal to the existential, generating situations that are both ambiguous and revealing, alternating between authenticity and parody. As a contemporary successor of pop art and Andy Warhol’s all-encompassing and revolutionary interpretation of the concept of art, Israel has a studio at Warner Brothers, where he takes advantage of the grandiose production potential of the film industry to create his works, from paintings and sculptures to his talk show and commercial sunglass collections. As a spillover effect between commercial products and artworks, his activities in the sunglass industry are also transformed into sculptural works that appear as hybrids of eyeglass lenses and the aesthetic and surface fetishism of Californian West-Coast minimalism.
Israel’s painterly production includes both his characteristic self-portraits and series of paintings based on stage panels and backdrops from the film industry, as in the Flats and Skyline Backdrop paintings. Self-portraits in fibreglass are cut in the shape of the artist’s recognisable, sunglass-clad profile, and are repeated in endless colour variations like a logo – as a parallel to the artist’s obsessive focus on branding and the persona, which is also reflected in the contemporary construction of identity in the profile pictures of social media. TheSkyline Backdrop paintings consist of attractive colour-graded surfaces that imitate pastel-hued Californian sunsets. The result is an aesthetic that hovers at the borderline between neo-abstraction and a theatrical representation of reality. Like the city of their origin, they are experienced as an interface of attractive surfaces and underlying hollowness and simulation. In their circling around such themes as the film industry, celebrity culture and the American dream, their mechanisms are both embraced and, at the same time, exposed in all their ambiguity.