Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Being the URJ Biennial Artist-in-Residence

What an incredible experience. Five thousand Reform Jews from around the world (mostly from North America) gathering together in San Diego for the 2013 URJ Biennial, where I was the artist-in-residence.

Getting started in my mobile studio.
I had three things to get done: the first was to create an original artwork inspired by Biennial, created entirely at Biennial in the kikar (the “public square”). The second was to share my process with anyone and everyone who came by my mobile studio, and the third was to lead a workshop in papercutting and help people make their own art.

The first piece cut.
I’d never had to work in public in this way before – and it was certainly a challenge. It’s one thing to be working in the safety of my studio, where I can make decisions (and mistakes) on my own and not worry about how messy the process can be. To be exposed like I was, with people watching me sketch and cut and search and paste... it was unnerving at times, but energizing at others. The hardest part might have been finding enough time to keep working on the papercut while talking to so many people who wanted to hear about my process.

Left, the mountain begins to take shape. Right: one of the first background pieces.

As for the workshop: three dozen people joined me to express ourselves through the cutting of paper. Margaret and Lou and Shoshana and Joe and Robin and Wilma and Heidi... so many wonderful budding artists. It was both exhausting and invigorating. We had four hours together, and I am so proud of the work everyone made.

Photo from the URJ
Photo from the URJ

And somehow it happened: although Wednesday morning I had only a large blank sheet of cold-press watercolor stock, by Saturday night I had completed “Gathering.”

Wednesday I studied and sketched, Thursday I cut paper to create the top layer, Friday I disassembled and then reassembled pieces from comic books and maps and other ephemera to create the background, and Saturday after my workshop I put the last pieces together.

The idea inspiring the piece is simple, really – I came to see the Biennial as a “Sinai moment,” all of us gathered together to worship and receive Torah and study and learn.

As with all of my work, words from Torah informed the piece. In Exodus 19:18 we read, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for Adonai descended upon it in fire, and the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” That’s the way I like to think of Revelation – as a kiln. The smoke of God’s presence surrounding the top of the mountain reminds us that we are not just gathering, but creating. We came together to discuss strengthening our movement and building a vibrant and relevant Jewish future.

The mountain itself is built out of the honeycomb iconography of the Biennial, with the riot of colors and textures underneath reflecting the content of the sessions, the sanctity of our prayers, and the specific geography of Biennial. The space surrounding the mountain is made of cut-up books and ephemera, including a dictionary and an encyclopedia, with references to Sinai, San Diego, Torah, music, prayer and the Reform movement.

The completed papercut: "Gathering"
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve as Biennial artist-in-residence; it was a pleasure and a privilege to study and teach and learn and create with this community.

“Gathering” includes these comics (and more) in the background:
  • Action Comics #25 (Jan 2014)
  • Animal Man #2 (Dec 2001)
  • Batman: The Black Glove (2008)
  • Captain Atom #3 (Jan 2012)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #1 (June 2009)
  • Green Arrow #22 (May 2003)
  • Green Arrow and Black Canary #8 (Jul 2008)
  • Green Lantern: Fear Itself #1 (2011)
  • Infinite Vacation #5 (Jan 2013)
  • Invincible Iron Man #25 (Aug 2010)
  • Justice League #1 (Oct 2011)
  • Metamorpho and Aquaman #1 (Oct 2007)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #25 (Feb 2007)
  • Testament #3 (Apr 2006)
  • Wonder Woman #10 (Aug 2007)

“Gathering” also includes pieces of the following:
  • The Future of Judaism in America, by Eugene Kohn. (The Liberal Press, New York, 1934.)
  • Union Hymnal, Third Edition. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, New York, 1958).
  • Pathways Through the Bible, by Mortimer J. Cohen. (The Jewish Publication Society of America, New York, 1966).

The final work will hang in the URJ’s New York offices, and for a limited time we are making archival giclée prints available to anyone interested in having a reminder of Biennial for themselves. The prints measure 16” x 20” and will be mailed in an artwork tube; the price is $120.00 (including domestic shipping), and the proceeds are being split with the Union for Reform Judaism. To order, please visit my online store.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I'll have a blog post in the next few days about my experience as artist-in-residence for the URJ 2013 Biennial – in the meantime, here's a photo of the piece I created while at Biennial, titled "Gathering." Details on this to come soon as well, but here's the bullet: inspired by Biennial, created entirely at Biennial in my mobile studio, it represents the "Sinai moment" we 5000 Reform Jews participated in at Biennial.

The original will reside in the URJ offices in New York, but you can purchase a limited edition archival giclée print here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

New postcards!

I received my new postcards in the mail today, featuring "Jerusalem of Gold." Want one? Swing by my table in the Kikar at the URJ Biennial and get one!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Come see me cutting at the 2013 URJ Biennial in San Diego this month

I'm proud to share with you that I'm the artist-in-residence for the 2013 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial, and I'll be cutting a new papercut live in the Kikar (town square): Wednesday through Friday, December 11-13; if you're attending, please come by and see me!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Hanukkah! And Thanksgiving, too!

I made you a little something, with the help of Normal Rockwell. Whatever you're celebrating, I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Artist-in-Residence at URJ Biennial -
cutting paper live, in person!

If you're attending the 2013 URJ Biennial in San Diego this December I hope you'll come by Kikar Biennial (the "town square") and see me working on a new papercut (as well as sharing photos of recent work and other information). I'm proud to have been selected as the 2013 artist-in-residence, and am creating a new piece designed specifically for Biennial. Protective eyewear will not be required.

On Wednesday, December 11, from 2:35-3:05 pm I'll be doing a "meet and greet," and I've got guaranteed scheduled cutting time from 12-2 pm on Thursday and 12:15-1:45 pm on Friday – but I'll be around more than just that, and I look forward to meeting you; please come by the table and say "hi."

And on Saturday, December 14, I'll be leading a workshop for those of you who want to put knife to paper with me; details here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


This papercut is called "Treehugger," and it was created as a gift for Ruben Arquilevich, Senior Camp Director of URJ Camp Newman. Last night we held an event to honor him and camp leadership.

URJ Camp Newman Advancement Director Ari Vared
presents "Treehugger" to Ruben Arquilevich.

The piece is inspired both by Ruben's love of nature and the way he expresses it through camp leadership. Tucked within the branches, in addition to the imported papers and cut-up comic books, is a snippet of text from the Torah (a book that had been destined for the genizah wound up in my hands first!) – it references his biblical namesake, but also the lineage of Jacob – that is, the children of Israel. This, for the "dor l'dor" nature of camp, and for the way it nourishes continuing generations of Jewish kids.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Welcome aboard, Gabriel!

Yesterday we welcomed a new member of the Jewish community – Gabriel Max Roher-Smith – with a ritual brit at the home of his parents. I was pleased to be able to make this papercut marking the date of his birth and to present it to his parents at the simcha.

The rainbow bands are made of cut-up comics featuring (in descending order) Spider-Man, The Thing, Kid Flash, Hulk, and Superman.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Corrie Siegel's papercuts at AJU

I'm not the only papercutter with work in the "Sacred Words, Sacred Texts" exhibition going on now through the end of December – Corrie Siegel (who also created the theme map artwork for the show) has some beautifully fragile pieces at AJU.

As she describes the work, "These cut paper works are created through overlaying text in a matrix to obscure the original message and reveal a pattern composed of symbols.The intricate detail work is inspired by micrographic texts by Hebrew scribes who sculpt, skew and stretch letters to create dynamic and textured compositions. Through using the form of a traditional Jewish paper-cut, these loaded texts are abstracted and cut into fragile lace."

You can see more of Corrie's work on her website.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Sacred Words, Sacred Texts" review
in the Jewish Journal

This week's Jewish Journal has a great review of the "Sacred Words, Sacred Texts" group exhibition.

"Brynjegard-Bialik’s beautiful pieces, which weave in images from comic books to create mythic takes on Torah and the Jewish experience, breathe new life into the ... art of paper cutting." 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Visiting Watts Towers

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Watts Towers – and by "had the opportunity" I mean that I MADE TIME to see them. And so should you, if you live anywhere nearby; they are a true wonder. Started by local artisan Simon Rodia in 1921 and completed more than 30 years later, they are (allegedly) the largest single piece of art completed by one person.

Looking up through one of the towers
Watts Towers is a collection of 17 interconnected structures, with two immense towers and many smaller structures. The armature is constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh and coated with mortar. Rodia covered EVERYTHING with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass, as well as found objects including bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells.

The towers and walls are covered with scavenged pieces of broken tiles, crockery...

...and LOTS of bottle, mostly green. Mostly 7-UP and Canada Dry, we were told.
Rodia built the towers with no special equipment or predetermined design, working alone with hand tools and window-washer's equipment.

He pressed his tools into the cement for this "signature" panel – again with his initials.
We took the tour and heard many stories – some of which may even be true, I suppose... but many of which sounded suspicious.

On weekends Rodia scavenged broken bottles and dishes, and gathered seashells at the beach.

Rodia married the loved of his life in 1902... and divorced her seven years later, never to see her or their three children again. This was decades before he began the towers.

This little area is called The Cactus Garden.

The lot that Rodia purchased upon which he would build the towers faces Italy... roughly. Yeah... VERY roughly.

Would this fall under the category of forbidden reuse?

He built the towers in his backyard. Seriously – in the backyard.

Rodia has his initials EVERYWHERE... as well as lettering such as "Nuestra [Pueblo]."

He apparently built the towers himself because (1) he didn't have any money to pay anyone to help him and (2) he wouldn't have known how to tell them what to do.

He included a fountain which he thought would be perfect for baptisms, and supposedly plenty of people came by and baptised their babies in it.

There are two huge towers, and many smaller ones and other structures.

The intricacy of the steel rebar work is beautiful.

While building the towers he worked at various jobs during the daytime, pouring cement and setting tile... and then would come home and work all night on his towers.

Rodia's intials, the year he began the towers, and "[Nuestra] Pueblo."

This is supposed the be the "sail" of the "ship" portion of the towers.

He married a second time, but his second wife left him when he started work on the towers.

The entire property is surrounded by a wall he built and decorated as well.

The towers are composed of (literally!) approximately 11,000 pottery shards; 10,000 seashells; 6,000 pieces of colored glass; and 15,000 glazed tiles. I didn't count; that's the official word from the staff.


When the city found out what he was doing they warned him that he couldn't build his towers over 100 feet – so he made the tallest one 99.5 feet.

Interested in seeing them yourself? (Photos just can't convey the experience.) The site is open daily; it's "closed" on Mondays and Tuesdays, but they can still be viewed from the street. But I suggest taking the tour – it's worth the seven bucks. Information here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Join me this Sunday for a panel on Judaism and the arts

This Sunday, October 27, from 11 am to 1 pm, American Jewish University is hosting a panel on "Sacred Words, Sacred Texts" – tied in to the group exhibition currently being held at AJU, HUC, and USC Hillel. The panel will discuss Jewish art and its relation to our sacred canon, and will last about an hour (with time for Q&A and a tour of the exhibit).

Rabbi Zoe Klein, of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, will serve as moderator of a discussion on the nature of a sacred text in a Jewish context and in our everyday lives. The four artists will be:
American Jewish University
15600 Mulholland Drive  •  Los Angeles, California 90077
310-476-9777  •  www.aju.edu

No RSVP is required. Questions? Drop me a line.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Disney Hall!

Ten years ago I took some photos of the Walt Disney Concert Hall as it was being built — and today is its ten-year anniversary as a Los Angeles landmark. I was lucky to be working down the street during its construction and opening, and got to see it come together. If you haven't yet been inside to see a show (or just to marvel at its beautiful pipe organ), I recommend it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adath Jeshurun entryway commission complete!

I'm so pleased to share photos of the new entryway at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Louisville, Kentucky. Last year the congregation completed work on their new ark doors, which are an adaptation of my "Burning Bush: Flame On" papercut (see here for details and pix), and now five of my "paper tefillah" papercut series have been produced in metal for the entryway to their synagogue.

From left to right are V'ahavta, Shalom, Yotzeir, Avot, and Mi Chamocha; you can see the whole set of 16 paper tefillah papercuts in this PDF.

They are EXTRA LARGE and very well-executed; I'm so pleased to have my work included in the redesign of the synagogue.The ark doors and the entryway are both featured on the front page of Adath Jeshurun's redesigned website.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Join me at a free panel discussion on art and "Sacred Words, Sacred Texts"

On Sunday, October 27, from 11 am to 1 pm, American Jewish University is hosting a panel on "Sacred Words, Sacred Texts" – tied in to the group exhibition currently being held at AJU, HUC, and USC Hillel. I have work in the other two show venues (not at AJU), but I will be one of the four artists on this panel (which also includes two rabbis), discussing Jewish art and its relation to our sacred canon. The panel should last about an hour, with time for Q&A, and then a tour of the exhibit.

Rabbi Zoe Klein, of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, will serve as moderator of a discussion on the nature of a sacred text in a Jewish context and in our everyday lives. The four artists will be:
American Jewish University
15600 Mulholland Drive  •  Los Angeles, California 90077
310-476-9777  •  www.aju.edu

No RSVP is required. Questions? Drop me a line.