We had the good fortune of connecting with Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Isaac, how does your business help the community or world?
American musician Woody Guthrie famously had a sticker on his guitar that read, “This machine kills fascists.” British musician Billy Bragg says that we all know it’s not true – playing music and making art don’t change the world. But they can create opportunities for other people to rethink how they see the world, and what they will do with their lives. That’s how art can impact the world: by making people see how the world can be better. As an artist, that’s one of the key things that motivates me: sharing my vision of the world as I want to see it (or, as necessary, identifying the wrongs in the world in hopes of bringing attention to them). So how does what I do help the world? If it does, I hope it’s by helping people to see possibilities, and to decide to be a part of progressive change.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I cut paper. It’s something that Jewish artists have done for hundreds of years, so I’m working within a well-established medium for my people. With the nickname “The People of the Book,” we Jews are also known for our stories. And of course, we are also known for questioning – questioning the status quo, questioning our elders, questioning established norms. My work is a combination of these three things – I seek to find meaning in traditional techniques and traditional narratives, questioning how they relate to our lives right now. My work explores the role of narrative in the development and expression of identity. I work in paper because I like its fragility and its place as our primary medium for telling and sharing stories across generations. It is both ephemeral and constant. I layer cut-up comic books into my work, drawing parallels between comic book mythologies and religious traditions to delve into the stories that make us human. I started reading comics about 40 years ago in New York, and I started cutting paper about 25 years ago in Jerusalem; I started putting the two of them together about 10 years ago in Los Angeles. It’s very personal, and very autobiographical. People seem to get it, and I’m glad – but I’m still just making work to figure out what our stories mean, and what our new stories can be about.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
OK, so right now we obviously can’t do this – but I can tell you that the one Los Angeles landmark that I always recommend, to natives and visitors alike, is Watts Towers. So many L.A. folks have never made it down there, and so many tourists don’t even know about it – but for me, it celebrates so much of what makes Los Angeles the city it is. Created by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, built in his spare time from whatever materials he found at hand, in his own yard – a combination of skilled craftsmanship and artistic vision and whatever crazy muse inspired him. The towers are gorgeous and unique and ridiculous and magnificent. Yes, hit the beach; yes, see the museums. The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, the Chinese Theater, and the Griffith Observatory. But first, visit the Watts Towers.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Anne Hromadka believed in my work when I was still trying to find my voice. As a curator and consultant she has the experience and knowledge to make sound judgements – and her advice pushed me in the right direction. Now, years later, she’s a friend and colleague – and she continues to push me forward. www.amhartadvisory.com
Other: During non-pandemic times, I travel and teach about art and Judaism and pop culture with my wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik; information on these programs is available at www.PaperMidrash.com.