Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Nevertheless She Persisted" – Judith

This is the big new piece I made for "High Priestess" – the group show opening at at ArtShare LA this Saturday night, March 18 (details at the bottom of this post). It's a portrait of the (apocryphal) biblical heroine Judith, a "daring and beautiful widow" (h/t Wikipedia) who slays Israel's enemy, the general Holofernes, with his own sword and brings his head back to her fearful countrymen, in triumph; Israel is saved.

I find it astounding how many portraits of strong women use the "head bowed" posture – when men in similar narratives are usually shown with heads held high, basking in their own greatness. Women are traditionally shown as humble or modest in their achievements, undercutting their strength and undermining their accomplishments. Or at least that's the way I see it. So my Judith is shown with head bowed to subvert that model, and her sword shines bright as she contemplates what she's achieved. The handle of that sword addresses the dichotomy of representation of female heroes in traditional narratives – the negative attributes applied to women so that they remain unsure of their power and themselves, positioned above the verses from the Book of Judith which celebrate her. It's like the folks who set down these stories just couldn't handle a strong woman, and kept trying to chip away at female strength with stereotypical insults.

I've titled this papercut "Nevertheless She Persisted" after the words used just last month by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to attempt to silence the voice of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” said McConnell. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Dick move, McConnell – and his words became a rallying cry for those, like me, who will not stand idly by and allow women's voices to be silenced. "Nevertheless, she persisted."

The papercut is made of cut-up comics featuring female super heroes, including Wonder Woman, the first female human Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, Mary Jane Parker, Black Canary, Scarlet, Elektra, and more. The words in Judith's face — "I've got no reason to be afraid any more" — come from a comic book called "The Wicked + The Divine" (written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie) attributed to a character named Inanna – who shares a name with the Babylonian goddess of love, wisdom, and war.

Want to hear more about it? And see it in person? Join me this Saturday night, March 18, from 7-10 pm, for the opening reception of "High Priestess" at ArtShare LA in downtown Los Angeles (801 E 4th Place, 90013.
Femininity is both an energy and an idea, and is not necessarily the same as femaleness — as these hypnotic and quasi-mystical works explore through images of secular mythology and cultural power.).
The show features a bunch of new work by me, as well as some wonderful art by Hagop Belian, Elena Johnson, Mirabelle Jones, Lois Keller, Erika Lizée, Rebecca McFarland, Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass, Lena Moross, Robert Nelson, Jason Pippen, Nataša Stearns, and Tslil Tsemet.

 Click here for more details.

Nevertheless She Persisted
24" x 36"
Mixed media
Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Beware My Power (Asher)

Another day, another executive order – and this time it's a rehashing of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim travel ban. (Yeah, we're getting political out here.)

So to mark the day and to make it clear where I stand – WITH THE TIRED, HUDDLED MASSES – I'm posting another of the papercuts in my new Twelve Tribes series: "Beware My Power (Asher)."

This one is made of cut-up comics featuring the new Green Lantern, Simon Baz – a Lebanese-American, and the first Muslim member of the Green Lantern Corps. Like many of his brethren he is misunderstood, wrongly accused, and generally a target of suspicion and mistrust. And yet he continues to wield his ring to fight for all humanity.

The tribe of Asher is traditionally represented by an olive tree – this one has a strong twisty trunk with Baz's forearm tattoo, the Arabic word for "courage."

I'll be premiering this series (and MORE) at Brave New World Comics (in Newhall, in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California) the evening of Saturday, April 8 — details will be posted here once I've got more to share, but please save the date for now.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Nevertheless, she persisted."

I am daily disappointed, overjoyed, angered, uplifted, and I have dealt with the turmoil in the best way I can: by cutting paper.

This is "Let Her Speak (Judah)" – a new papercut that's one of twelve in my "Twelve Tribes" series, and the whole series is (apparently) going to be protest art. Each of the twelve papercuts is made with a minority super hero, with bits and pieces that help me struggle along with the ups and downs in my daily news feed.

"Judah" is traditionally represented by a lion, and is known as a leader — so my interpretation is made of cut-up comics featuring Storm (leader of the X-Men, occasional Queen, and so on). She's a strong woman who leads by example, and speaks truth to power. It's also got a few pieces of Brian Bendis's "Scarlet" as well (the protest scene shown in close-up below, for example).

The whole series uses a lot more speech bubbles than I usually do – with messages reflecting my beliefs in what America stands for: welcoming the stranger, striving for equality and rights for everyone regardless of gender identity, color, religion, etc... an America in which we "Let her speak."

I'll be premiering this series (and MORE) at Brave New World Comics (in Newhall, in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California) the evening of Saturday, April 8 — details will be posted here once I've got more to share, but please save the date for now.

Why am I posting this early preview? I'm inspired by all of the #shepersisted activity that's sprung up after the efforts to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren. This piece isn't called "Neverthless, she persisted" (but I'm secretly working on such a piece for an upcoming group show... again, details to come).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Learning and teaching at Limmud in England

Heavy coats at all times for winter in Birmingham – below freezing most mornings!

Limmud UK! Thousands of attendees from around the world, hundreds of sessions — all focused on Jewish culture, education, and art. This is the 20th year of the conference… but our first.

Six months ago when my wife and I were first approached to teach at the conference in Birmingham, England, we were a little unsure about what it would be like, but we decided to take the leap — and it was fantastic!

Wearing the colors.

My wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, and I were asked to lead as many sessions at the week-long conference as wanted, so we picked some of our favorite topics and put together a host of options combining my art and her scholarship, some of which we’d presented elsewhere but some of which were completely new:

  • Women of Valor and Other Super Heroes
  • Damaged Heroes: Midrash and Pop Culture Mythology
  • Under the Chuppah with Superman and Lois Lane
  • Paper Midrash: Text Study with Knives

We'll be doing all this again in Fresno this spring, in case you missed us in England.

Most of these sessions centered around conversations between me and Shawna, with slides and text handouts for everyone in the session. It was great to share our ideas with inquisitive and engaged people. The “text study with knives” workshop almost didn’t happen… funny story: I had asked for art knives and cutting matts to be provided, and the resources folks were happy to introduce themselves to me with a box containing… BUTCHER KNIVES AND FOOD PREP CUTTING BOARDS. Split between anxiety and laughter, it wasn’t long before the confusion was resolved and the proper materials were located. I would be remiss if I didn't mention at this juncture how incredible the all-volunteer conference staff was in every way — as I said, THOUSANDS of attendees and HUNDREDS of sessions, and it all ran so smoothly... yashar koach to Limmud!

Plenty of photos from the workshop, since my kids were there (and willing).

I was also a panelist in a session on “Pictures That Say 1000 Words” (I discussed Morris Louis’s “Pillar of Delay”) and Shawna read a letter in the first “Limmud Letters Live” session (she read Henrietta Szold’s letter on saying kaddish).

But of course, there were so many hours in the day and SO MANY SESSIONS to attend, so we took advantage of all that Limmud had to offer. Torah, Talmud, Israel, cherry tomatoes (seriously)… and of course, I attended all of the art sessions I could fit into my schedule.

One of several GREAT sessions led by Professor Marc Michael Epstein of Vassar College

Artist Jacqueline Nicholls was also one of my favorite presenters; here she is discussing her "Draw Yomi / Daf Yom" project.

And here's Jacqueline Nicholls presenting a panel from "V for Vendetta" as part of the "Protest Art" panel.

I went to a session on the New Venice Hagaddah, which includes work by my buddy Hillel Smith.

The conference took place over Hanukkah, and with our kids by our side (whom we’d brought along and who also enjoyed the heck out of Limmud) we participated in the nightly candle-lighting (big group lightings and individual hanukkiah lightings as well).

And of course, lots of socializing (I met and hung out with the incomparable Jeff Klepper!), Pokemon with "Rashi's Daughters" and "Fifty Shades of Talmud" author Maggie Anton (not joking), and Snapchatting.

I hope we have the chance to attend again — to learn and teach with our extended global Jewish community, and to revel in our religion and culture and traditions.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cutting Paper in Orange County
at Temple Beth Sholom

What a pleasure it was to spend my Sunday at Temple Beth Sholom in Irvine, California, to cut paper and make art with almost 50 people from their community (including participants from their high school program)! The theme was identity, and participants had to design a papercut that reflected some aspect of their Jewish identity. Lots of names, in Hebrew and English, as well as stories from the Torah, symbols of joy and celebration, and even a pet chicken!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Story Happens in Music – A commission for a cantor

Last night I got to celebrate my buddy Yonah's 45th birthday, and make a special presentation on behalf of his wife Sydnie. Yonah and I have been friends since junior high, so when Sydnie commissioned me earlier this year to make a new papercut to mark his birthday, I was pleased and honored to accept.

This papercut is called “My Story Happens in Music”and it measures 24" x 18". Yonah lives his life at the center of his family and community, and has literally done so at Dodger Stadium when singing the National Anthem — and so this papercut’s structure is based on Dodger Stadium, and includes elements from Yonah’s life, all taken from comic books. He is a cantor and singer and a father and a husband and a friend... and I tried to represent all of this in the papercut.

The title comes from a bit of text taken from a Daredevil story; as well, the papercut features cheering crowds and engaged congregations; it includes the characters Black Bolt (known for having the most powerful voice in the universe), Dazzler (who transforms music into powerful beams of light), and Ragman (one of the first openly Jewish super heroes). Obvious and subtle references abound, alluding to music and spirituality, family and community, humor and joy. There’s a dove, in reference to the Hebrew meaning of “Yonah”; soccer, a sport close to Yonah’s heart, which he shares with his children... and more than a few inside jokes between Yonah and the artist, whose friendship dates back to junior high school.

And of course, multiple references to the home and family that Yonah and Sydnie have made — the “4” from the Fantastic Four uniform, and a quote from the 45th anniversary issue of their comic... spoken by a certain postman... and comics from each of their birth years. The sheet music at the center is an interpretation of the book of Psalms, from A. Z. Idelsohn’s 1967 book, Jewish Music in its Historical Development. A listing of the comics used in the making of this papercut is on the back of the papercut, and includes:
  • Action Comics #903 (Sep 2011)
  • Astonishing X-Men #26 (Oct 2008)
  • Automatic Kafka #4 (Dec 2002)
  • Billy the Kid #88 (Dec 1971) — Yonah’s birth year
  • Bullseye: Perfect Game #2 (Feb 2011)
  • Daredevil #51 (Nov 2003)
  • Dazzler #4 (Jun 1981), #38 (Jul 1985), #41 (Jan 1986)
  • Fallen Angels #1 (Apr 1987)
  • Fantastic Four #59 (Feb 1967), #273 (Dec 1984), #543 (Jun 2007) — 45th anniversary issue
  • Green Lantern: Fear Itself #1 (Apr 2011)
  • Gwenpool Special #1 (Feb 2016)
  • Justice League #33 (Oct 2014)
  • Justice Society of America #11 (Feb 2008)
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes #300 (Jun 1983)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: The Legend of the Blue Knight #1 (Apr 1997)
  • Mutopia X #3 (Nov 2005) — daughter’s birth year
  • Nevada #1 (May 1998)
  • Ragman #3 (Dec 1991), #5 (Feb 1992)
  • The Ringo Kid #5 (Sep 1970) — Sydnie’s birth year
  • Shadowpact #6 (Dec 2006)
  • Stadium Comics: The All-Star Story of the Dodgers #1 (Apr 1979)
  • Superman #205 (Jul 2004)
  • Superman/Batman #44 (Feb 2008) — son’s birth year
  • Thor #394 (Aug 1988)
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four #4 (May 2004)