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While some people collect and read comics religiously, Avraham Guy Barchil uses the genre to illustrate his life and learning as a religious Jew. The first solo exhibit of Barchil's work opens today at the Binyamina Gallery in Tel Aviv.
Avraham studied drawing and painting in art school, and has been passionate about reading and creating comic books since childhood. Yet something was missing from his life as a secular artist, and seven years ago he started to become more observant. For four years, Guy stopped creating art, which didn't seem as important to him as learning Torah and performing mitzvot.
The 29-year-old started studying in Yeshivat Abirin Yaacov with Rav Avirevach in Tel Aviv seven years ago. He continues to learn every day, though the now married father of two is working once again as a full-time artist.
Today, however, Barchil's work flows out of a firm foundation of authentic Jewish practice and education. "My work (avodah - which also means divine service) is learning Torah and making art together," the artist explains. According to the exhibition's curator, Yuval Caspi: "Guy successfully integrates the worlds of comics and kabbala."
The Binyamina exhibition showcases selections from Barchil's gorgeous Zohar picture books, which illustrate the traditional text, and concentrates on pictures from his latest book, Ha Tzelem (the image), which has just been published by Omanut La'Am as part of its "Artist Books" series.
Hatzelem, a graphic novel, illustrates the life of a cubist man in a cubist world, and his quest for a circular form. The work is somewhat autobiographical, an allegory for the artist's own search for spiritual truth. The idea for the circle within the square comes from Jewish sources, illustrated as geometric diagrams of a square within a circle, and another one of the converse, in the Babylonian Talmud (Succot). Hatzelem opens with a text by Rabbi Isaac Luria (Ha'arizal), discussing the square steps to the higher levels of this world and the primordial round steps that will return in the world to come. It closes with another dozen Jewish sources - midrashim, Etz Ha'hayim, Sfat Emet and the Zohar among them - all discussing the symbolism of the circle and square. But Barchil uses only a minimum of text, and only as a framing device. The viewer is shown the mystical narrative through the elegant black-and-white pictures alone.
There's something revolutionary about this venture - what's called avant-guard in the art world, and perhaps even prophetic in the religious one. Barchil takes the most esoteric Jewish texts and makes them accessible to the masses through the "low" medium of comic book art.
The portrayal of his spiritual quest is worth seeing.
Opening: Friday, February 24, noon. Binyamina Gallery. Telephone: (03) 529-1093. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, noon - 7 p.m., Friday: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Binyamina Gallery is inside the Dizengoff Center, on the second floor between entrances number four and six. The exhibition will close on March 9.