The License‑Plate Artist
Michael Kalish forges images of celebrity icons.
June 19, 2000
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark
Photo Editor Kathryn McCarver

Showing his Metal: Kalish photographed at his loft in Venice, California, May 9.

Age: 27. Hometown: Atlanta, where Kalish's mother, Claire, is a painter, and his father, Stanley, is a surgeon. Current residence: Los Angeles. Artistic license: After getting a degree in psychology from Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, Kalish moved to New York in 1997, where he began an art career by fashioning license plates into images of cultural icons like Keith Richards and Albert Einstein. Last year, he moved to L.A. to be nearer to such celebrity clients as Sharon Stone, Jay Leno and David Arquette. "It's really bright and psychedelic," Arquette says of Kalish's work. "And I've always liked license plates because they make them in jail." Making history: His smaller works start at $800, though Kalish's largest piece, "The Presidents," a rendering of a ft 42 U.S. commanders‑in‑chief ‑made from nearly 2,000 plates ‑is priced at $150,000. "[First] I did Lincoln," he says. "When I finished, I was like, 'I've got to do everyone."' On the drawing board: Kalish has about 500 plates stored in his Venice, California, studio and plans renditions of Bob Marley, James Dean, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe. "People see license plates every day," he says, "but I want them to be seen in a different way."