HOUSTON IN 2020: SELF-EMPLOYED BLACK ARTISTS
It's said that out of adversity comes something very beautiful: prosperity or enlightenment. So even with the reality of all these things that have been kind of imposed on society-slash-humanity, it creates a dynamic for us to just kind of examine and reexamine our own selves and hopefully come away as better people, better individuals, better citizens.
Photo © Amy C. Evans, 2020
ISRAEL McCLOUD is a native Houstonian and third-generation artist. He began creating as soon as he was able to hold a paintbrush. When other kids were out playing ball, Israel’s father, George McCloud Sr., was teaching him color theory and design, imparting the knowledge that would serve him throughout his life as a multidisciplinary artist. Israel shared some of his father’s wisdom in his 2020 interview: "He always used to emphasize, ‘Don't limit yourself. Don't just have one talent. Don't just be someone who just paints flowers or someone who just creates a sculpture. Do your best to master all those genres, all those fields, so that you can continuously eat.'"
Art has been Israel's bread and butter for all of his adult life. A sought-after muralist and sign painter, Israel’s work can be seen all over Houston, but a concentration of it can be found in the Third Ward neighborhood where most of his public works celebrate Black history. From his city-sponsored mini murals that dot Emancipation Boulevard, honoring local music icons Lightnin’ Hopkins and Arnett Cobb, to the portraits of community leaders featured on the exterior walls of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, Israel’s murals are poignant reminders of those who came before. He created one of his most powerful portraits in response to the 2012 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Israel felt a personal call to honor Trayvon’s memory, and his mural is an iconic landmark on the northwest corner of Almeda Road and Wheeler Avenue.
On March 13, 2020, Covid-19 hit Houston and effectively shut down the city. On the very same day, in Louisville, Kentucky, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police in her home while in bed, asleep. On May 25, 2020, nine weeks into the pandemic, Houston native and former Third Ward resident George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Later that summer, Israel added both of their portraits next to Trayvon’s. When asked why he continues to honor victims of senseless killings and police brutality on this Houston street corner, Israel was quick to say, “Oh, I have no choice. I learned early on to disconnect, if you will, from the romanticizing of things. For me, art is a mechanism for change.”
Israel is committed to working towards social change, but his artistic practice remains unchanged. He is from the old school, doing everything by hand and refusing to cut corners. This has become Israel’s niche as a freelance artist, providing him a devoted clientele that not only appreciates his aesthetic, but his work ethic, commitment to community, and generosity of spirit, as well.
In addition to his private clients, Israel continues to garner the attention of local exhibition spaces that regularly feature his work. In 2019, Israel was commissioned to paint the entry wall for the exhibit “For Hire: Contemporary Sign Painting in America” at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. A year later, he completed an exterior mural at the Station Museum entitled “Enough," featuring a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. surrounded by a too-long list of victims of police brutality. And in 2021, he created the site-specific outdoor installation “Acres Homes Rocks” in the historic Acres Home neighborhood on Houston’s northwest side, one of the largest unincorporated African American communities in the South before it was annexed by the city in 1967.
Since the beginning of Covid, Israel’s art practice has lent itself to working during a pandemic, since mural work keeps him safely outside, albeit while wearing a mask and, in the summer, working in 100-degree heat. But he wouldn’t have it any other way, and it certainly doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Israel is busier than ever. “I just believe that we validate our own selves by the premise that the proof is in the pudding,” he said recently. “I'm one of those people that is just determined to do as much as I can, while I can.”