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STUDIO STORIES 2020

STUDIO STORIES 2020 is a collection of short interviews with artists who have been making contemporary work during the Covid 19 pandemic. It introduces readers to the ways in which artists continue to create and adapt their practice today.
curated BY Lilach Schrag

ABOUT STUDIO STORIES 2020 - As the global health pandemic changed artists' lives and practice, Chicago-based artist Lilach Schrag found herself drawn to stories of how artists were adapting to lockdown and the new reality. The result is Lilach's curated presentation "Studio Stories 2020", hosted by Kol HaOt. "When I realized it would be impossible to have my scheduled June residency at Kol HaOt's gallery in Jerusalem, I reached out instead to colleagues and friends around the world who make contemporary art and started collecting their stories. I asked them to provide a glimpse into their mission, their methods, and their hearts. They spoke about their work, altered daily routines, challenging moments, uplifting realizations, and the ways in which they continue to create and adjust their practice during the pandemic. Individually, from their homes and their studios, they tell fascinating stories with thoughtful words and beautiful artwork. Collectively, they offer a snapshot of artists responding to the unprecedented reality of our time.” – Lilach Schrag, 2020

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Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik

TRAINED IN GRAPHIC DESIGN, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ARTIST ISAAC BRYNJEGARD-BIALIK CUTS UP COMIC BOOKS AND REASSEMBLES THEM INTO COMPOSITIONS OF LINE PATTERNS, SHAPES, AND COLOR FIELDS TO OFFER HIS OWN “PAPER MIDRASH.” AS AN ARTIST AND AN ART EDUCATOR, ISAAC FOCUSES ON THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND JUDAISM AS HE LEADS ART WORKSHOPS, DESIGNS CURRICULA, AND EXHIBITS INTERNATIONALLY.

Maariv Aravim - cut-up comics, 18” x 24”
My work always begins with text. I’m exploring the stories of our people, and we have an enormous collection of myths, legends, apocrypha, fables, homilies… so much inspiration.

Beware My Power (Asher), cut-up comics, 11” x 14”

THE ARTWORK IS MADE OUT OF TWO COMPONENTS:
the papercut surface is a structure that usually relates to a Torah parasha or Talmud tractate.
My Canary Cry - cut-up comics, 14” x 30”
the collage under it is made of cut-up comic books whose characters or storyline act as a complement or foil to the text.
FOR EXAMPLE, ONE OF MY NEWEST PIECES IS “WISDOM CRIES OUT IN THE STREETS.” I CREATED IT A FEW WEEKS AGO WHEN groups of mothers demonstrated IN PORTLAND against racial inequality and police misconduct.
Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets - cut-up comics, 24” x18”
THIS PAPERCUT IS INSPIRED BY MOTHERS AND WOMEN WHO DEMAND JUSTICE, AND BY THE WORDS OF PROVERBS 1:20, AND HAS THE STREETS OF PORTLAND AS ITS BACKGROUND.
As the papercut evolves, my ideas about what it means change. Decisions I make while I sketch might change while I cut, and I often find myself layering one comic fragment over another.
I love playing with narratives. I am actually applying the midrashic approach of filling in gaps, of decoding hidden meaning, of “the story about the story.”

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WE’RE LIVING IN PARTICULARLY TURBULENT TIMES, AND IT HAS DEFINITELY INFLUENCED THE WORK I’M DOING.

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I’ve been exploring the ideas of protection and safety, looking to Jewish texts that address uncertainty and tragedy.
I started work on a series of golems and other mystical creatures in March as the pandemic lockdown took hold – thinking about the golem as an external source of protection, but one that we create; a way for us to protect ourselves and those we love through the work of our hands.

Untitled (Martin Manhunter Golem) - cut-up comics,12” x 12”

SOME OF MY GOLEMS ARE RESPONSES TO PARTICULAR MOMENTS IN TIME OR IDEAS — THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT, THE UNAPOLOGETIC KILLING OF UNARMED BLACK MEN BY POLICE WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE.
some are positive affirmations of the strength we can find and create for ourselves, exemplified by Black Lives Matter, by doctors and nurses treating the sick, by marching in the streets to demand justice.

Untitled (Ragman Golem) - cut-up comics, 12” x 12”

EACH OF MY GOLEMS IS MADE WITH CUT-UP COMICS FEATURING SUPERHEROES WHO EXEMPLIFY THE BEST TRAITS OF HUMANITY, IN MY HOPE THAT WE CAN FIND INSPIRATION IN THESE WOMEN AND MEN OF ALL COLORS AND BACKGROUNDS: BLACK LIGHTNING, BATWOMAN, FIRESTORM, CAPTAIN MARVEL, THE THING, STORM, AND SO MANY MORE.

Untitled (Wonder Woman Golem) - cut-up comics, 12” x 12”

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Series of Three Dreamers: AKA Bunker, Here I Am, The Alien Superman - cut-up comics, 12” x 12” each
Series of Three Triangles: The Place, The Womb, The Source - cut-up comics, 18” x 24” each
MY WIFE IS A RABBI IN THE REFORM MOVEMENT. UP UNTIL LOCKDOWN SHE AND I HAVE BEEN TRAVELING THE WORLD TEACHING ABOUT THE INTERSECTION OF JEWISH TEXT AND POP CULTURE, AND IN PARTICULAR THE POWER OF MIDRASH AND COMIC BOOKS TO EXPLORE AND AMPLIFY PERSONAL NARRATIVES.
IT’S BEEN SUCH A PLEASURE TO BRING WHAT WE CALL “PAPER MIDRASH” TO COMMUNITIES FROM NEW YORK TO LONDON, FROM SAN ANTONIO TO CLEVELAND.

Isaac & Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik

Since we can’t travel right now, we had to rethink our usual artist-and-rabbi conversations and come up with new ways to engage online including creating virtual studio tours and even hands-on workshops.

Leading a “Paper Midrash” workshop at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles

It’s been challenging to make sure we live up to our goal of driving authentic text study through art – but we’re learning with every session we offer, and we plan to continue to see how we can share our love of Judaism and comics with the world, online for now and in person again once we can do so safely.

With “Paper Midrash” workshop participants from Foundation for Jewish Camp in New York City

clockwise from top left - Jerusalem of Gold - cut-out comics, 18" x 24"; Live Long and Prosper - cut-up comics, 20" x 16"; Let Her Speak (Judah) - 11” x 14”
Created By
Lilach Schrag
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All images are courtesy of the artist.