Israel McCloud_PORTRAIT._by Amy C. Evans

THE PAINTER

ISRAEL McCLOUD

@israelmccloudstudio

For me, art is a mechanism for change, for—for identifying and for identity. For the propagation of culture, and for the preservation of heritage and identity and all those things. And you know, it is the way by which we are able to—to articulate our emotions and our needs and to examine things from a place or a plateau that is disconnected from the standard or the norms, if you will. I mean, because the beauty of art is its timelessness and—its its universality. Its ability to speak to, you know, all people and to speak to humanity.

ISRAEL McCLOUD: IN HIS OWN WORDS 

I am, for the sake of categorization, an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary visual performing literary artist. Working artist, meat-and-potatoes artist. I move in and out of many different genres and, at the end of the day, I create for a living. I have been doing this for so very long, and one of the questions people ask me quite regularly and repetitively, more or less, is when or why did I become an artist? The response is always the same. I did not become an artist. Art became me.

I grew up in a very artistic household. My father was himself an artist, his mother was an artist—very creative and very adept in terms of ingenuity, working with your hands and improvisational skills from carpentry, painting, you name it. This has always been a part of my identity and my culture, and the core of my being, who I am as an individual and a person. I come from what I like to say is a legacy. My entire family are artists. 

My upbringing as a young boy, myself and my brother, was very, very intimate. By that I mean, my father took us under his wings at a very, very early age, as early as seven, eight, nine years old. When my peers and my childhood friends were playing ball and doing the things that children do at that age, I was painting and being taught the ins and outs of color blending, and design, and all those dynamics. Art was a way of life. It was a livelihood. It was how I ate. It was how my father sustained his family.

I have always, again, been very practical in terms of how I approach life and livelihood. One has to know what their niche is. And because, again, that was my conditioning—understanding the importance of independence—I've always operated within that kind of a dynamic. I've had art studios. I've opened my own gallery, for many years, throughout Houston. Even when I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I've always just kind of operated outside of the establishment, so to speak. It's been partly by choice, but primarily by just necessity. There have been many cases that, no sooner than—again, because I continue that same tradition of my father's: create, produce the work volume, and then sell the work and market the work. That has always worked for me. I was a very early parent, early on, and so that was another thing that necessitated the importance of me being able to make a living at what I do. That's always been a constant with me, is just creating my own venues and mechanisms of profit.

[In regard to the pandemic,] nothing has slowed me down other than just time and age itself that's connected with metamorphosis because everything changes. It doesn't stay the same. I'm at the top of my game right now in terms of just my creativity, my desire to produce my passion.

 

Regarding the external dynamics, gentrification has very long-reaching tentacles, and one of those, of course, is that when the neighborhood changes, then the residents change. When you have a neighborhood that has changed and buildings that are torn down and replaced by something else, and there's a different entity, there's a different energy, there's a different even spirit, if you will, that permeates from that newness. They don't have that familiarity, not only with you as an individual but with the culture and with the mindset or with the energy of the community. Of course, that is something that impedes and impairs the artist and the freelancer and the independent businessman, in general, especially the one that makes his livelihood by that very kind of synergy, if you will—how they connect with those existing and pre-existing dynamics.

Most recently, The Station Museum commissioned me to do a mural, as well as some other artists, that's presently being exhibited. It's a portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, of course, and I put a twist on it. I've got an alien on it, and I've got a lot of different responses from that, in terms of feedback. It's a satirical kind of touch. I wanted to take this thing and elevate it from a different view, if you will. How other beings perceive us, so in doing that I've got this guy, kind of like the Star Trek. It's a pun where he is just kind of making this transmission to the headquarters, if you will, about what the status of life on Earth is, and he's just kind of focusing on all this civil unrest and racism and economic disparity, so. But it also, of course, addresses the issue of police brutality. All that is tied in with the theme, so it's a very powerful piece but also very illustrative and just kind of something that I wanted to jar the mind into the thinking of the people that viewed it, as well as their emotions, because I've got a piece that I am growing. It's an organic piece, because it also lists the names of many different victims and individuals who have fallen to police brutality, and I continue to add those names. Some, as far back as the seventies: José Campos Torres [a twenty-three-year-old Mexican-American Vietnam veteran who was beaten to death by several Houston Police Department officers in 1977], Ida Lee Delaney [a fifty-year-old African American grandmother who was gunned down while on her way to work by drunken, off-duty Houston Police Department officer Alex Gonzales in 1989], and as recently as now, with Tamir Rice [a twelve-year old African-American boy, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio, by twenty-six-year-old white police officer Timothy Loehmann in 2014], the young fifteen-year-old, and George Floyd [a forty-six-year-old African American man who grew up in Houston's Third Ward neighborhood and was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest by white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes in 2020], of course, so. That's a piece that I am particularly proud of.

For me, art is a mechanism for change, for identifying, and for identity. For the propagation of culture, and for the preservation of heritage and identity and all those things. It is the way by which we are able to articulate our emotions and our needs, and to examine things from a place or a plateau that is disconnected from the standard or the norms, if you will. I mean, because the beauty of art is its timelessness and its universality. Its ability to speak to all people and to speak to humanity. I always look at ways to uplift and to inspire, and one of my vehicles over— really, one of my early-on slogans was, "Artist for hire," H-I-R-E, "Artist for higher," H-I-G-H-E-R. Real big on elevating people via the mechanisms of art, raising their consciousness, raising their humanity, and raising their sensitivity and their awareness of how we can make things better via this beautiful mechanism of art. It certainly goes beyond visual art. I'm talking literary, I'm talking performance, I'm talking music, all these things. Everything. Without getting preachy there's an accountability that I think rests very squarely on the shoulders of creative people, and their ability to speak and to touch the masses. It is critical that we recognize that and we use that for all things good that will motivate and elevate.

There's work to do. I think that because we are physical people and we are really kind of governed by our ability to move and to be active, I just recognize the importance of action. That was my conditioning as a child, and as a young man, to do as much as you can. I just think it's important for us to identify the opportunity and to make the most of it when it presents itself. Sometimes, to create the opportunity. I'm not one for waiting around for a gallery to pick me up, or somebody to acknowledge me. I just believe that we validate our own selves by the premise that the proof is in the pudding, and so I'm one of those people that just am determined to do as much as I can, while I can.