A monumental art project is transformed into wildly ambitious graphic literature.
In his introduction, artist Rand (Art/Brooklyn Coll., CUNY) invokes Lenny Bruce, Franz Kafka, and Robert Mapplethorpe as inspirations in his creative impulse to turn the 613 Jewish commandments from the Torah into a series of paintings that some might find transgressive, transcendent, or both. “Its effectiveness is factored by the degree of the viewers’ engagement or skepticism,” writes Rand. “Its sacred implications are formatted in a way that makes them seem impudent. Although comic, they are not ironic. Kafka said his art was his prayer.” Thus he takes the commandments seriously enough to make them the subject of art and takes his art seriously enough to infuse it with a spirit of playful subversion. Many of his full-color panels invoke pulp novels, comic-book heroes, and magazines of satire. It took five years for the Brooklyn-based artist to finish the project (in 2006), a series of 16-by-20-inch paintings that required “1,700 square feet of wall space.” Such a display must have been overwhelming for the viewer, a riot of images and color. Here, the work is more like the comic-book panels that also inspired it, inviting readers to savor each law, perhaps puzzling over the connection (or disconnect) between the words and the image. It opens with the startling image of an astronaut free-floating against a backdrop of stars, illustrating the commandment “To know there is a God.” The continuity of panels on purity of sacrifices or prohibiting sexual relations have a narrative pull on the page that they would not have on the wall, while images of cowboys and boxers, molls and floozies and hustlers, some verging on cartoon and others edging toward surrealism, create a visual universe in which time is out of joint, where edicts from the distant past receive interpretation from a more recent past or an imagined future.
As a book, it stands on its own rather than merely evoking a larger wall display, reaching a much wider audience in the process.