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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hatzelem (הצלם) by Avraham Guy Barchil

from Jerusalem Post (Feb. 23, 2006)

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.

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