NEW YORK (Jul. 20)
Surrounded by paint buckets, canvas and completed works, Morris Katz set a world record Wednesday by creating 103 saleable paintings during his 12-hour marathon in the lobby of the New York Penta Hotel.
Never ceasing to entertain the crowds and cameras with his banter, Katz, who calls himself the “first kosher ham I ever met,” sold 55 paintings at $50 a piece, raising $2,750 for the Greater New York Councils, Boy Scouts of America.
This “Guiness Book of World Records” entry actually encompasses two records — painting non-stop for 12 hours, with an allotted five-minute break after each hour, and creating the most saleable works of art in the shortest period of time. They are not Katz’s first.
He already holds the world record as most prolific painter of saleable art with upwards of 162,000 paintings in his 41-year career, and a speed record with his 16-by-25-inch canvas of a skier, created in 43 seconds at the Limelight Nightclub in Chicago.
STARTS WITH A ‘SHMEAR’
The recipe for Katz’s Instant Art, which allows him to paint at the rate of 2.64 square feet per minute, appears haphazard, although he insists each idea is well-formed. Using a palette knife for speed, Katz begins with a “shmear” of white acrylic for background.
In one painting, a black line is added to represent a tree and a wad of toilet paper is dabbed over the wet bark to detail the branches. Katz then forms two black horses into the background with the trowel, and using a snappy wrist, slashes on “de-tail,” as he described the ends of the horses.
Finally, he serapes his name and time (7 minutes, 32 seconds) at the bottom, staples the canvas into a frame and triumphantly holds it high above his head for the audience.
He developed his art, which he has termed impressionistic realism, 31 years ago. “It’s quality painting with speed,” Katz said while indenting line details with his knife into a rainbow New York City skyline. “I can sell them for less money and make more people happy.”
Clad in green beret and yellow T-shirt, Katz is his own best promoter. Randomly printed across his shirt is a collage of his speed achievements, including the words “Paint Good and Fast,” the title of his “how to” book which will be incorporated in his new book to be called “Amazing Artists: The Life and Works of Morris Katz.”
LEARNED IN D.P. CAMP
Katz, born in Poland in 1932, escaped the Nazis more than 12 times. Living in a displaced person’s camp after the war the 13-year-old Katz began art lessons with a former teacher from the Warsaw Academy. He then apprenticed at the Munich Academy of Art, paid for by his mother with a handful of chocolates.
In 1949 he immigrated to the United States and by 1950 he supported himself solely through painting. Six years later he created the Instant Art after finishing a work for a high school class in 30 seconds.
Since then he has added his humorous shtick of audience interplay and plays on words, usually jokes with Jewish flavor. “In spite of his accent and showmanship, he’s down-to-earth,” said David Boehm, editor of the “Guiness Book of World Records,” which is published by Sterling Publications, the same company handling Katz’s books.
“Katz claims art is experience,” Boehm continued. “By hiding in haylofts and cellars he got the experience of danger…life and death. It makes him more down-to-earth in his work than if he had been living in an ivory tower.”
Katz’ paintings utilize the motifs he studied — pastorals, cityscapes, landscapes and still life. Some of his most popular works are based on Jewish tradition, such as “Dancing Rabbis” at the Western Wall or “Desert Camels.”
VISITOR TO ISRAEL
For at least a few weeks a year, Katz commutes to Jerusalem, although he spends most of his time in his studio and apartment here. In Israel, which he said adds to his “spiritual uplifting,” Katz appears on kibbutzim and describes himself as their Johnny Carson.
Katz expresses gratitude to the United States, which is why he chose the Boy Scouts of America as a charity. “America has given me the privilege to express myself here and has made me able to go to Israel,” Katz explained. He is attempting “to feed back to the future of America by giving my skin to charity.”
Between America and Israel, Katz reportedly has raised some $1 million for charitable organizations.
Katz, reveling in the attention of the international audience passing through one of the busiest lobbies in the city, finds his speed-painting an endless challenge despite the apparent ease at which he can produce.
“All the time I am rejuvenating with the challenges,” he said. With eternal ideas, Katz described his paintings as originals “fresher than the bagels in the bakery.”