‘Paper Golems’ transform comic books into artistic pandemic diary

Isaac stands in front of his Golem artwork. Courtesy/The Signal

A Castaic resident who spent his past two years during the pandemic working on art is presenting his work at a University of California, Los Angeles, art gallery. 

Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik has created a new art exhibition called “Paper Golems: A pandemic diary” of 72 papercut golems sourced from vintage comic books. The anthropomorphic creatures are historical to the Jewish culture as a protector of their people. 

Brynjegard-Bialik’s exhibit includes 72 golems with sixty 1-foot art pieces. The exhibit began on Jan. 27, with an opening reception scheduled for March 1 at The Dotort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel.  

The idea for the new golems series came to Brynjegard-Bialik from the uncertainty created by the pandemic. He wanted to regain a sense of control over his life and began creating his artwork as a way of processing what was happening.  

The vintage comics are part of Brynjegard-Bialik’s private childhood collection, which he uses to cut up and create the golems. Elements incorporated include representations of doctors, nurses, lawyers, scientists, speech bubbles addressing the pandemic and images of Wonder Woman. 

Originally, Brynjegard-Bialik wanted to be a graphic designer and attended UCLA. However, he spent a year in Israel as his wife completed Rabbinic school. As a result, he needed something besides doing graphic design on the computer.  

Courtesy/The Signal

“I thought it might be fun to try paper cutting, rather than just graphic design, as I’ve been doing on the computer,” Brynjegard-Bialik said. “So I bought a knife, a cutting mat, and I started cutting paper.” 

He describes the “apple falling from the tree” moment when he had comics on the table where he was cutting paper and decided to combine both passions in a project. For the last 15 years, he developed his art, culminating with his current exhibit. 

The goal for Brynjegard-Bialik is to tell the Judeo stories and the stories of civilization; many of the works have incorporated Jewish folklore and stories orally passed down through generations.  

“My art is me trying to figure out what these stories mean to me and to be a part of this conversation across generations,” Brynjegard-Bialik said. “I’m not trying to answer any questions and not trying to say this is the way we tell the story; I’m just trying to have my say in a conversation.” 

Every element of his art is meticulously organized; even the story backgrounds of the superhero characters he uses in his work play a significant role in expressing a story being told. The biblical story of Jacob and Esau feuding tied into the comics, and he used images of Loki and Thor as examples of a modern telling of the ancient story. 

“Spider-Man talks about how with great power, there must also come great responsibility, and that is a lesson that seems pulled right from the Bible,” Brynjegard-Bialik said. “It tells us how to live and how to be a good person.” 

The pieces are meant to create discussion about stories and what they mean. Brynjegard-Bialik hopes spectators can achieve an inspiration to understand themselves and the world around them.  

He continued to participate in gallery showings and enjoyed the different people who addressed ideas of feminism and equality. Shows that have themes allow for conversations to develop, according to Brynjegard-Bialik.  

“A lot of artists use comic books to tell their stories like Lichtenstein, Warhol,” Brynjegard-Bialik said. “Even people like Picasso and Brock used newspapers and magazines in their collage work as a way to tell new stories.” 

The nearly two years of lockdown situations allowed Brynjegard-Bialik to share what he experienced during a tumultuous time. He describes the works as a diary of his experience. Brynjegard-Bialik said his hope is his 72 golems remind people of what they were going through in the past two years and create discussion of a shared experience. 

It has become tough for Brynjegard-Bialik to say goodbye to his childhood comics, but he said it added a deeper connection to his artwork. He’s cut up some famous issues of Batman comics during Frank Miller’s time but says he has limits. 

“I’ve got a Thor comic signed by Jack Kirby that is probably never going to go into the knife, just because there’s sentimental value,” Brynjegard-Bialik said. 

You can find more information about Brynjegard-Bialik’s work at www.nicejewishartist.com/papergolemsinfo.html.

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