Friday, May 12, 2017

Fear Not (Zebulon)

 Fear Not (Zebulon)
11" x 14"
Mixed media

America Chavez is the queer Latina hero whose comics make up this papercut featuring a sailing ship, symbol of the tribe of Zebulon. Chavez takes the name Miss America, and wears the stars and stripes. She has superhuman strength and durability, the power of flight, and the power to kick open holes in reality, allowing her and her teammates to travel through the multiverse and into other realities, which here alludes to the traditional view of Zebulon as travelers.

Each of the papercuts in the series is made from cut-up comics featuring minority super heroes, in an effort to focus on these less-frequently heard voices, and to celebrate them. At the same time, I think about this series as voices of American dissent, at a time when we must all stand together and speak up against evil to ensure that our vision of a more perfect union remains intact.

Some of the tribes are still available for purchase (but many are gone!); giclée prints of all twelve are available on my store site. Please contact me if you want more information.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lock Her Up (Dina)

Lock Her Up (Dina) 
11" x 14"
Mixed media

Dina is the daughter of Jacob and Leah, not traditionally counted as one of the twelve tribes. A midrash tells us that Jacob locked her in a box when she was young to protect her from curious men — she’s criticized for leaving the box, and when she goes out into town with her arm exposed she is blamed for what happens next (see the tragic events of Genesis 34). The box is a symbol of all the ways women are held back by other people's words and expectations, made of comics in which women are “boxed in” by negative or misogynist comments, including a pointed reference to the last presidential campaign. Catwoman’s cowl, and the pink throughout the papercut, represent the pussy hat.

Each of the papercuts in the series is made from cut-up comics featuring minority super heroes, in an effort to focus on these less-frequently heard voices, and to celebrate them. At the same time, I think about this series as voices of American dissent, at a time when we must all stand together and speak up against evil to ensure that our vision of a more perfect union remains intact.

Come see the whole series tonight — Wednesday, May 3, from 7-9 pm — at Brave New World Comics in Newhall, California. Some of the tribes are still available for purchase (but many are gone!); giclée prints of all twelve are available on my store site. The show's only up for a few more days!

Schrodinger's Pipe

Couldn't resist – BoingBoing inspired me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Our Own Blood (Reuben)

Our Own Blood (Reuben)
11" x 14"
Mixed media

The mandrake is the symbol of Reuben, first son of Jacob; the biblical account tell us that he gave some mandrakes to his mother Leah to help with her infertility (Genesis 30:14). This papercut is made from comics featuring Marvel Comics' Wakandan King T’Challa, the Black Panther — the first black super hero in mainstream comic books. T’Challa’s birthright makes demands on him that he must balance against his own desires, as Reuben must later choose whether to wage war alongside his brothers. The pressure of primogeniture, the balance between family and responsibility to the outside world – these are the experiences of Reuben and T'Challa.

With representations of Black Panther drawn from his entire publication history – from his first appearances by Jack Kirby through the recent series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze — this papercut is the first of twelve in my newest series, which is an exploration of diversity and family. Just as the tribes were different from one another in character and vision, so are the tribes that make up the United States — and our nation is at its best when we join together.

Each of the papercuts in the series is made from cut-up comics featuring a minority super hero, in an effort to focus on these less-frequently heard voices, and to celebrate them. At the same time, I think about this series as voices of American dissent, at a time when we must all stand together and speak up against evil to ensure that our vision of a more perfect union remains intact.

The series is showing through the first week of May (2017) at Brave New World Comics in Newhall, California; details here. The original "Our Own Blood (Reuben)" is still available for purchase; giclée prints of all twelve are available on my store site.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Sherlock LP

“The Sherlock LP” is a mixed media papercut I was commissioned to create for Steve Sherlock by his wife Dana on the occasion of their tenth wedding anniversary (and Steve’s birthday).

Steve is the drummer for Nerf Herder, one of the best bands of all time and a band that Shawna and I have seen SO MANY times in concert I can't count. Their music is sort of post-punk geek rock, and if you don't know their sound you should check them out now. Go ahead; I'll wait here. To be asked to create a piece for him was an honor and a privilege, and I'm so pleased to share it with you.

The papercut is a representation of all the things that Steve likes and that make him who he is… seen through the lens of the Sherlocks’ “long play” marriage. It takes the form of a record on a turntable (the actual size of the record here is 12 inches square, for authenticity), and it’s made of cut-up comic books and other ephemera to tell the story of Steve and Dana.

There’s a lot in here, including: their names (and Steve’s “Nerf Herder” nickname: the Cougar); their wedding date (February 2007); their shared musical interests (including quite a bit from Tom Waits, such as “Take It With Me,” which includes the lines “Always for you, and forever yours”), as well as some bands Steve likes; Steve’s interest in mid-century modern design; Star Trek (particularly Mr. Spock) and Star Wars (“I love you” — “I know”)... and even a little girl in a Devo shirt to represent their daughter. There’s a lot. The back of the piece includes a (mostly) complete listing of the comics that were cut up to make this piece, which include a comic from February 2007, characters with the name “Steve” (like Captain America) or music-related powers (like Dazzler), the liner notes from Devo’s 1980 “Freedom of Choice” LP, and: Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Superman Family, The Walking Dead...

I was waiting to share this post, and then got distracted by the twelve tribes show, but the official Instagram post this weekend reminded me that it's time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Praying with Knives in Wonder Valley

[This post was co-written with my wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, and is also posted on her blog, which can be found at Photos are courtesy Rabbi Rick Winer and Bill Leifer.]

It is always a privilege and pleasure to worship and create in a new community — making new friends, gaining new insights, and bringing new works of art into being. This past weekend was such an experience, when we joined Temple Beth Israel of Fresno as the scholar and artist in residence for their 2017 Shabbaton retreat (in Wonder Valley, California).

The heart of the weekend was “praying with knives” — meditating on the Saturday morning prayers and then using knife and paper to explore their meanings.

Encouragement from Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik

In our Shabbat morning worship Rabbi Shawna encouraged worshippers to choose a prayer that intrigued them, reflected a personal experience, or spoke to how they were feeling right then, and to focus on it during personal silent prayer: to read it more than once, to connect with the language, to read it slowly to pull out meaning, to imagine what words they would use if they were writing the prayer, to see what images came to mind when reciting the prayer, to meditate on the feelings that it invoked. And when our service finished, we began to pray with knives.

Guidance from me

After a bit of guidance from Isaac on approach and technique, and a little experimenting with their knives, the worshippers began to wrestle with their prayers — first sketching out some basic ideas, and than translating that idea to a papercut design.

Mark and Cindy, hard at work!

No two creations were the same, even when people chose the same prayer. Several people used rays of light in some fashion, but each time it was a part of a different prayer. A few people asked us to figure out which prayer they were working on based on the images they were trying to convey in their sketch, in a pictionary-meets-prayer sort of moment.

The prayer book was explored in its entirety — worshippers weren’t limited to the standard prayers that compose a service, but also explored psalms, readings, quotes and songs in the artwork. The lines that we often skip over because they are placeholders were sometimes the inspiration that reached out and grabbed someone.

Rabbi Laura Winer shares her papercut prayer.

At the end of the Shabbaton on Sunday everyone had a chance to share their artwork. Prayer by its nature is personal, and it can be a vulnerable moment to share a piece of artwork based on prayer, even among friends — but so many people wanted to stand up and share what they had created. The art and stories took prayer to a new level; for some they had a favorite prayer that they were excited to represent, for others something just caught their eye.

Side-by-side with the prayer that inspired it.

We so often think of prayer as written, as the recitation of words written on a page. But all written prayer started out as someone’s inner thoughts — as a spontaneous moment of prayer — and over the years became a part of our standard worship service. In Hebrew school we often begin by teaching prayers; mastering them in Hebrew is often a requirement for bar or bat mitzvah. But beyond familiarity with the words of others, prayer is our attempt to express our deep yearning or to articulate our gratitude or to help us shift our own perspective, and we are able to do those things through art. In their creations participants expressed gratitude, their dedication to helping others, their appreciation for the people in their lives, looking inward, creation.

The retreat coincided with the Torah portion Vayekiel, in which we learn that God assigned Bezalel to create the mobile tabernacle — the mishkan — and the objects that go with it. Bezalel is a craftsman skilled in many art forms, but we learn that each of the Israelites has something to contribute to the creation of the mishkan. God is the ultimate Creator — the Torah begins with divine creation, culminating in the creation of human beings in God’s image — but we have the ability to create as well, and when we do we are connecting with the Divine within ourselves.

[For more information on how you can bring "the dynamic duo" to your community, please contact me via email:]

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.