Jewish Journal

Mystic Letters

by Eric Roth

Posted on Jan. 4, 2001 at 7:00 pm

If God uttered words to create the universe, it's not surprising that two L.A. artists are using the Hebrew alphabet as inspiration for their own work.

"Letters of Foundation," now at The Jewish Federation's Bell Gallery, is a multimedia show that traces the 2,500-year evolution of all 22 Hebrew letters. The letters are considered, in the kabbalistic tradition, to be "the protoplasm of creation," photographer Dennis Paul says.

The project by Paul and his wife, artist Lynn Small, is a series of 24 pieces, one for each Hebrew letter, plus a cover image and an endplate; the colorful collages incorporate photographs, scribbled letters, painted images and woven fibers. Paul says each "tablet" shows every known form of each letter from approximately 400 BCE forward.

The series is dedicated to the memory of Israeli textile artist Julia Keiner Forchheimer. "We think of the work as being created by the three of us," Paul said during an interview in the couple's art-filled Fairfax-area apartment. "Each tablet has Julia's fibers, my mixed-media drawings and Dennis' photographs," Small adds. The goal is to weave ancient symbols into modern metaphors.

Also in the gallery is work from the artists' "Kabbalah Series," more Hebrew letters and quotes juxtaposed on layered images of novas and other heavenly bodies. The dramatic "Before One" (1997-98), for example, is a large LightJet print that includes a reconfigured NASA photograph of the Orion Nebula galaxy taken from the Hubble space telescope. "A miracle of our time is that we can view a new universe literally being created," Paul says. "Understanding that image opens new doors of perception."

And possibly, glimpses of the divine.

The exhibit is on display at The Jewish Federation's Bell Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 761-8000. The artists' Web site is www.viewart.com/colabart/kabbalah.htm.

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