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Pro billiards player Max Eberle looks for big break as artist

'Pool or art - it's been the most difficult question of my life,' Max Eberle says.

These days, professional billiards player Max Eberle is spending more time at the easel than at the pool table.

The 42-year-old Las Vegas resident has made his professional mark by winning pool tournaments, a player known as “Mad Max” for his no-nonsense defeat of opponents with such colorful nicknames as “King Kong” and “The Terminator.”

But for years, when not grappling with the complex geometry of billiards, Eberle turned his precise eye to another pursuit: painting.

His specialty is pointillism, which requires a heightened attention to detail, like lining up a tricky bank shot into the corner pocket.

Eberle’s work will be on display at the Geisha House Steak and Sushi restaurant on Flamingo the weekend after Christmas. The showing will include 9 Eberle pieces, including his latest, completed for the event, of a Korean geisha -- his first new work in five years.

These pieces aren’t kitschy images of dogs playing poker. Think more Andy Warhol. Eberle works on expansive canvases -- as big as 6 feet by 7 feet -- looking to capture the image of iconic cultural figures he considers heroes.

There’s Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, and even basketball star Michael Jordan.

“I think he’s an incredible talent,” said Leslie LaGuardia, a Las Vegas publicist who is promoting the show. “Even though he’s a great pool player, I think his real drive is art. He’s truly an artist.”

Born in Ohio, Eberle -- who was profiled in the Los Angeles Times in 2013 -- has long been torn between pool and painting.

“Pool or art -- it’s been the most difficult question of my life,” he says.

Eberle hails from an artistic family and began dabbling in paint when he was just 4.

“I fell in love with detailed work,” he said. “Instead of painting a house and scribbling in green for the grass, I’d draw hundreds of blades.”

He practiced art in high school and planned to major in the field in college. Then, as a sophomore, he decided he wanted to pursue billiards as a career. So he changed his major to geography and hit the pool room.

He won the Billiard Congress of America's National Junior Championship in 1991 and was twice the National Collegiate billiards champion. Eventually, he hit the road as a pro.

He developed the reputation as a quiet, almost Zen-like artist under the low-slung, operating-room-bright lights of the billiards arena. A health fanatic, he boycotted tournaments that allowed smokers.

Even with his continued success, painting was never far from his mind.

“When I was young, I didn’t know whether you could make a living out of art. I thought you can’t make it until you're dead,” he said. “Now I know that’s not the case. I realize art is not just a phase in my life. I have to make a decision.”

The athlete-artist is also an entrepreneur. He's produced self-help books, including "Zen Pool," instructional DVDs and webinars and — with the help of Robert Bissett, a nationally known dome designer — he's drafted 3-D architectural renderings for smoke-free, eight-ball-shaped pool domes he hopes to build around the globe.

Eberle considers the domes part of his art.

But when the weekend comes, the pool cue will be back in its case, the building diagrams back on the drawing board.

This time, it’s all about art.

“I don’t think I’ll ever quit pool, because of the time I’ve put into it and the level I’ve reached -- I’ve still got a chance to win major titles,” he said. “But art has its allure. You create something and it lives forever. With pool, you clear the table and it’s all gone.”

john.glionna@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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