IRS gave $17,000 in taxpayer money to ‘rehab’ portrait artist

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

The Internal Revenue Service paid artist and motivational speaker Erik Wahl $17,000 to perform a presentation at an IRS conference in Anaheim, California, according to an inspector general’s report.

Wahl’s presentation, entitled “The Art of Vision,” accounted for part of the $4 million in taxpayer money that the IRS spent on its Anaheim confab.

The Anaheim getaway was one of 225 conferences the agency hosted between 2010 and 2012, during the period that the beleaguered agency was improperly targeting the tax-exempt nonprofit status of conservative groups. The IRS spent a total of $49 million on the conferences.

Wahl, who is described as “an internationally recognized graffiti artist, author and entrepreneur,” is known for extemporaneously painting portraits of celebrities like Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, and U2’s Bono, sometimes with the U2 song “Beautiful Day” playing in the background, for the benefit of his corporate audiences.

“Erik’s understanding of vision was originally born in the school of disappointment. After an eight-year career as a partner in a corporate firm, he became frustrated by the lack of innovative thought and corresponding profits he saw in business. So he set out to challenge companies to change their way of thinking, while simultaneously pursuing his own individual passions. He rediscovered his love for art, and now plays in the business world by working through his art,” according to Wahl’s biography with the Premiere Speakers Bureau. “He’s the Warhol of Wall Street, the Renoir of ROI, the Picasso of Productivity, the Jobs of… well, having a Job.”

The Ian Somerhalder Foundation, an environmental organization set up by one of the stars of TV’s “The Vampire Diaries,” features a brief Wahl biography in which the artist refers to his “addiction,” but specifies that it was actually an “addiction of security” he overcame.

“But after 10 years in the corporate world, Erik could sense his talents were wasting away inside of him. However, it wasn’t until he lost everything that he came to find himself. A heartbreaking death to everything that he had worked so hard to achieve was the birth of his story. Playing it safe was no longer an option. It was time to get drastic,” according to the profile of Wahl. The Ian Somerhalder Foundation’s mission statement asserts, “There is no differentiation between all living things: trees, rivers, animals and humans. We are all one interdependent organism.”

Wahl’s life-changing insight, which he presumably imparted to the IRS employees who bought six of his paintings (one of which was subsequently misplaced), was to see that his untrained and spontaneous artistic talent held the key to this great chain of being.

“In a time of self-reflection, frustration and anger, he became determined to break free from the addiction of security that had lulled the passionate version of himself to sleep. By intentionally going against the grain of this addiction, Erik’s early artist was re-awakened. He poured himself into his own new ideas, writings and art with reckless abandon and spent his free time in the art community. In other words, Art became his rehab,” according to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation.

“What I’ve learned was, passionately, how to draw, and how to engage and entertain people and then bring that back into the education form of it,” Wahl said in a 2011 video, adding that he was happy to have avoided the constrictions of formal art training, which would have caused him to draw “logically” rather than “passionately,” as he does during his performances.

“So it’s been a fun ride for me to not have that long history, to start new, to start fresh, and I feel like that’s the advantage that a lot of these folks in PHP have is they are fresh to the industry and they can’t be told of what is impossible because they don’t know those structures or those paradigms for what has been possible before or what’s been standardized,” Wahl said.

The IRS appears to have gotten Wahl for cheap. The renowned graffiti artist has a going rate of $30,000 for a keynote presentation and requires $2,500 for travel plus hotel.

As The Daily Caller reported, the IRS recently turned over to congressional investigators a copy of an elaborate taxpayer-funded parody video in which IRS employees were depicted training for a dance competition in order to get ready for “Anaheim.”

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