I’ve always loved art in all its forms. I have a thing for Jews who rock, for example, and for Jews who mime, like Marcel Marceau (but we don’t talk about it).
Then there’s a nice Jewish artist I know. Make that: Nice Jewish Artist, per his website (NiceJewishArtist.com). That would be Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik of Santa Clarita, who combines paper cutting and collage to make Jewish art, but makes his just a little more super by adding Superman … and Spider-Man … and Iron Man.
Originally trained as a graphic artist — he now does strategic communications for Deloitte, LLP — my friend has found his niche making quasi-abstract art based on Jewish texts while incorporating carved-up comics. He started using them to provide color and texture to his work, and the result is just plain cool.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw his work — a breathtaking image of the Pillar of Fire from Exodus. The flames are outlined with finely cut white paper, each elegantly curved line ending in a point, clearly evoking a flame licking skyward. But the reds, oranges and yellows come from the Human Torch, one of Marvel’s Fantastic Four.
I later came to see that his technique is much more than a 40-something fanboy gimmick. Isaac found he could use comics to add meaning to each image, to insert a subtle storyline into the “paper midrash” he was trying to create. Just as we have evolved to find new truths in our biblical stories over the centuries, so, too, he told me, have the superheroes of comics — largely created by Jews, incidentally — taken on new meaning and new roles for us, according to our cultural shifts.
As a result, he carefully chooses each comic book clipping: In “MaAriv Aravim,” part of Isaac’s “Paper Tefillah” series dedicated to the modern American prayer service, he calls into service Marvel’s young runaway duo Cloak and Dagger. Their special powers involve light and dark, making them perfectly suited to a prayer about God “rolling light away from darkness, and darkness from light.”
The work features numerous circles, seemingly in orbit, as in a solar system, rotating around a hamsa that, in place of a sun, represents God’s metaphorical hand directing the components of the universe. The geometry and colors are beautiful, but Isaac also aims for something more: to evoke the experience of prayer in a new way. Creating the work, for him, is more akin to performance art; he calls it “praying with my knife.”
His work is a perfect blend of high-brow religiosity and pop culture, taking a sacred tradition and adding a modern flair. This duality shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a man whose wife and muse, Shawna, is a rabbi (at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, where my wife serves as cantor) and whose sister, Mayim Bialik, appears on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory.”
Some of Isaac’s work will be on view at American Jewish University in an exhibition opening Jan. 11 that will feature three artists and focus on the theme of wisdom and knowledge. His nod to a past tradition while tweaking it for today’s audiences is in keeping with some of the other artists featured in this issue of TRIBE.
Dov Rosenblatt, for example, is more than your average folk singer/alt-pop rocker trying to score a song on a movie soundtrack (although he’s done that). Raised in a Modern Orthodox home, he infuses his music with Jewish themes — sometimes explicitly, sometimes not — and also teaches local students creative ways to engage with Jewish prayer through songwriting.
Israel-born Matt Haimovitz, who will perform at the Valley Performing Arts Center in January and teaches at McGill University, has distinguished himself by seeking new ways of exposing the public to classical music. One solution? Recording a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” on a 300-year-old cello.
Best of all, each of these artists has been active in mentoring others. (Isaac leads paper-cutting workshops at Jewish summer camp and conferences.) In so doing, they not only add to an ongoing artistic, midrashic conversation, they also encourage and enable us to do the same.