Paper Tefillah: papercutting, prayer, and comic books

Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik grew up reading comic books and storing them carefully in individual plastic bags. This January he’s bringing part of his collection to Memphis — cut up into pieces and used in his latest one-man art show, “Paper Tefillah.”

The show features sixteen papercuts, each representing a prayer from contemporary Jewish worship. Brynjegard-Bialik says that they are intended to reproduce the worship experience in art. The pieces are modern and geometric, clearly influenced by the artist’s experience as a graphic designer, and the backgrounds are a surprising mix of colors and textures composed of cut-up comic books.

“I was a big comic book geek as a kid, and I guess I still am,” says Brynjegard-Bialik. “My work is an expression of who I am and what I’m thinking about, and this series is an attempt to use that perspective to explore how we engage in prayer.”

The prayer represented in “MaAriv Aravim” is about the cycles of day and night and the arrangements of the stars and planets. The papercut design is based  on planetary orbits, and its background includes cut-up comics featuring characters associated with space and darkness, such as Cloak. “Cloak envelops evil within the darkness of his cloak,” says the artist, “and works with his partner Dagger — who uses daggers of light — to fight for good.”

Dagger is featured in another piece, “Yotzeir,” which is about the creation of light. Brynjegard-Bialik has structured the piece as a multi-faceted jewel, refracting and reflecting a central light source until it splits into all the colors of the visible spectrum. In the background of the piece are cut-up comics featuring Dagger and other characters who work with creation and light, such as Firestorm and Dazzler.

Brynjegard-Bialik refers to the show as “a fine art mash-up,” as it brings together the traditional art of papercutting with the pervasive lowbrow art of comics. He has been cutting paper for 15 years, having discovered the medium while living in Jerusalem; he’s been reading comics a lot longer.

Many of the works on display also feature cut-up sections of prayerbooks and other sacred materials — items that had been discarded and were intended for ritual burial in a genizah, a traditional method of handling damaged sacred books. “I rescued them from the box,” says Brynjegard-Bialik, “These books couldn’t be used anymore, so I’ve found a way for them to have a new life and a new purpose.”

Paper Tefillah opens January 8, at Temple Israel and runs for one month.


“Paper Tefillah”

January 8 – February 8, 2012
Temple Israel
1376 East Massey Road
Memphis, Tennessee 38120
(901) 761-3130





About Susan Nieman

Susan C. Nieman is a public relations/marketing professional who stumbled into publishing after spending more than 20 years in non-profit and corporate communications. In addition to writing, editing and publishing Jewish Scene Magazine for the last eight years, Susan still finds time to work as a freelance writer, strategic planner, grant writer and public relations consultant. She has worked with several Memphis-area non-profits to successfully plan, market and execute community events. A closet writer as a teenager, Susan believes she might be famous after her death when her children discover her notebooks and diaries stashed in her night table and attic.

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