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Born to Be Wild

The Life and Art of Painter Linda Israel

Article by Jahla Seppanen

Photography by Alex Beal

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Linda Israel paints at least two large-scale bears a week to keep up with demand from her domestic and international galleries. As a full-time artist, her days consist of burning incense, meditating, and standing before a giant canvas mixing colors with her palate knife for 8-10 hours. Her studio is an easel overlooking nature and the mountains. Her patrons span major collectors and first-time buyers. This month, her iconic work is on display at Boulder’s SmithKlein Gallery—a fine arts staple in the Flatirons for the past 30 years.  

It would be a severe understatement to say Israel’s work possesses the uncanny ability to cut through to our souls. Her paintings speak to people, tethering them to an animal subject whether bear, cow, rabbit, elk, racoon, otter, bird or bison.

“They say, ‘I don’t know why I need this purple bear, but it makes me feel joyful,’” Israel says of her buyers. “The soulfulness comes forward in an alignment of spirit.”

With all her success, Israel was never formally trained. Instead, her genius for color and wildlife grew from passion and practice. Her school was the mountains of Aspen, Boulder, and Grand Lake. Her teachers: the wild animals.

When Israel moved to the city she realized she could not own a cow or llamas and painted them for herself to live in her home. From there, galleries followed, turning their airy, blank spaces into vivid animal refugees.

Israel’s style uses explosive color and an intimate frame to capture wild animals local to the Rocky Mountains. The moments she paints distill an eternal breath, where an animal stares back at you sharing its unique soul.

Israel does not paint a lot of background, nor does she focus on the full body or paws. “I paint close and personal,” she says, “so close and personal you can almost grab them and kiss their nose as you would your dog.”

This style of vivid animal portraiture was created by Israel and has grown to such popularity that other artists seek to imitate its effect. However, her work is impossible to recreate because it comes from the depth of her soul.

“There was no plan for me to be this kind of artist. I went to school for interior design, but I love to see animals in as much color as possible. For me, this is my life’s work,” she says.

Israel is wild like her subjects. A true artist who makes us want to quit our day-jobs and retreat to the mountains with nothing but a paint brush, sage, and a bottle of vodka (her evening treat). Her life and work inspire us to roam the uneven terrain of our spirits, devolving to that peaceful, unconditional animal we were all born to be.  

An Artist’s Daily Schedule

+ Meditate

+ Watch the robins feeding their babies

+ Burn sage

+ Stand before the canvas and play

+ Listen to rattling or podcast

+ Finish painting

+ Go for a nature walk

+ Vodka