Sunday, November 29, 2020

Arella Whirls – Commission at Sinai

"Arella Whirls" is a papercut commission made for Stephanie Swedlove to mark her conversion to Judaism, the culmination of a ten-year journey.

Torah and Talmud tell us that all Jews were at Sinai at Revelation, to accept the Torah and the covenant with God. All Jewish souls, into the future, today and tomorrow, by birth and by choice, and so on (Talmud Shevuot 39a and Shemot Rabbah 28:6). This papercut is built around Stephanie’s presence at Sinai, even as she now takes the final steps in the conversion process. Judaism also teaches us that all humanity deserves respect and justice, reinforced for us when we were slaves in Egypt, a story which we retell every year at Passover (and continually throughout our lives). This is connected to Stephanie’s drive for justice, trust, and community. This half of her story is represented with our people’s redemption, shown in the parting of the Sea of Reeds, with a path leading to Sinai.

The foundation is made of the purple costume worn by super hero Stephanie Brown, known as Spoiler – it’s where the journey starts. Up through the parted waters, which feature Arrowverse heroes (such as Felicity from Arrow, representing Stephanie’s analytic mind). “Tomorrow” references the teaching that all Jewish souls, past and present, are “right here.” Beyond/above the waves are verses from Devarim/Deuteronomy 29: 9-14, in which we read about all the people and future generations standing at Sinai in acceptance of the covenant.

In front of Mount Sinai we have the Teen Titans, with the voice of the Divine echoing around them. The lightning of God’s voice (based on a Hebrew pun in Shemot/Exodus 20:15) is made of another hero from the Arrowverse, the Flash, and in the clouds that swirl around the mountain like the smoke from a kiln (Shemot/Exodus 19:18) comic captions read “Arella Whirls” and “Arella Turns,” reflecting the joyous dancing of the Israelites after the crossing of the Sea and in acceptance of the Torah. And of course, Arella is Stephanie’s chosen Hebrew name – reflected as well in the shape of Mt. Sinai, an abstract aleph.

Comics in the papercut include:
  • Batgirl Annual #3 (January 2015)
  • Batman: Huntress/Spoiler #1 (May 1998)
  • Blackest Night: The Flash #1 (February 2010)
  • Gotham Underground #2 (January 2008)
  • Justice League of America #46 (August 2010)
  • Shazam: Power of Hope (November 2000)
  • The New Teen Titans #2 (October 1984), #4 (January 1985)
  • Teen Titans #6 (May 2017)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Art & Activism: Jewish Visual Artists Showcase & Panel


Please join me (and some other INCREDIBLE artists) on November 17 for the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival "Art & Activism" Panel. Details here:

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cleveland "Guests" Portraits for Sukkot 2020

 Last year at this time Rabbi Shawna and I were in Cleveland with the community of The Temple-Tifereth Israel, praying and studying and creating and celebrating Sukkot (check out what that was like). This year we had the opportunity to be back in Cleveland.... virtually. We joined them today for some visual text study about Sukkot and "the guests you can still have in your sukkah" (ushpizin and ushpizot), and for a sneak peek at what's going on in my studio.

I also shared with the TTTI community three new portraits I just completed, inspired by the upcoming virtual visit: three guests I'd invite to join me in the sukkah. Last year I added four guests to the traditional seven patriarchs and matriarchs: Cleveland's own Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman; Rabbi Sally Preisand, a Cleveland native who is America's first female rabbi (and visited the gallery to see her portrait!); and Golda Meir, Israel's first female prime minister.

Siegel and Shuster
Meir and Preisand

This year's three new guests all have Cleveland connections. The first one is Simson Thorman, the first Jewish permanent resident of Cleveland, an immigrant from Bavaria who was a founder of the city's first Jewish congregation and the first Jew to serve on the Cleveland City Council. His portrait is made with cut-up comics featuring Nightcrawler, another German immigrant.

Simson Thorman


Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver is beloved by TTTI because he was their rabbi for 46 years starting in 1917. He was an early champion of rights for labor, for worker's compensation and civil liberties, though his highest priorities were to advance respect for and support of Zionism. 

Working on my portrait of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver


My portrait of Silver is made of cut-up Superman comics focused on Perry White and the Daily Planet offices, inspired by his fighting for workers’ rights, and the renewed understanding 2020 has given us of the importance of those who work in the press and other fields essential to our emotional, political, and physical well-being.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

My portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is made of cut-up She-Hulk comics (she’s a super hero and her alter ego Jennifer Walters is a lawyer focused on defendants’ rights).

In-process photo of my studio table while building the RBG portrait


I wanted to capture the fight that “the notorious RBG” (in her "dissent collar") and *all* of us are engaged in for justice for all.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The portrait includes text from the Book of Judges (on Deborah), the text from Deuteronomy on “Tzedek Tzedek tirdof,” some Justice League comics, and pieces of an RBG comic book biography.

Can't wait to get back to Cleveland in person.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Studio Stories – Kol Haot


​As the global health pandemic continues to change artists’ lives and practice, Chicago-based artist Lilach Schrag is sharing stories of how artists have adapted to lockdown and the new reality, in a series calledStudio Stories 2020,” hosted by Kol HaOt. This week they profiled my work during lockdown, including my golem series and how Rabbi Shawna and I have been trying to keep Paper Midrash going. Check it out!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets

Inspired by the words of Proverbs (1:20) and the streets of Portland, this is my latest papercut: "Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets."

It's made with cut-up comics featuring super hero moms, including Jessica Jones, Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman), Greer Nelson (Tigra), Sue Storm (the Invisible Woman), and Jubilation Lee (Jubilee).

The "wall of moms" we're seen in the news lately – with moms in yellow, linking arms to protest police brutality, federal kidnappings, and to promote the obvious truth that BLACK LIVES MATTER – is a wonderful visual, and made me think of the words we read in the Book of Proverbs, in which Wisdom is personified as a woman crying out in the streets to be heard.

Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets
24" x 18"
Cut-up comics

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Yearning to Breathe Free

Yearning to Breathe Free
9" x 12"
Mixed media

This past Friday night my wife and I were praying (virtually) with Temple Beth Israel of Fresno, listening to the words of Rabbi Rick Winer, when I had this idea: combining the grief we have at the words "I Can't Breathe" with the hope in these words from Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus" – found in its entirety at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

"Yearning to Breathe Free" is made with X-Men comics featuring Bishop – a mutant from the future who is the son of Aboriginal refugees who fled to America, where he was sent to a mutant concentration camp and branded with an "M" over his right eye, used to identify mutants in his era. Which is a lot of backstory, I know.

The words form a tight square on the lower half of a rectangular sheet – I wanted them to feel cramped and in need of release. And the all caps letters in multiple colors? We've seen a lot of that in the streets of America these days, so it's certainly got protest and pride as inspiration as well.