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Jewish Journal

Big Decision for Long Beach Art Student

by Jason Lipeles

April 4, 2009 | 9:13 pm

detail of "Mamash" by Michael Cohen

After his friends went off to college and became more religious and his parents started to abide strictly by the laws of the Torah, Michael Cohen, who was only used to observing the Jewish holidays, thought that he should at least try out a more Torah-observant way of life.  Soon enough he was completely engaged in the study of Torah.  But, with this change of lifestyle, this Bachelor of Fine Arts student had a big decision to make:  should he leave college to study Torah in Israel or should he stay at California State University, Long Beach and continue to follow his passion for printmaking? 

“It’s selfish…to run away and abandon everything,” he decided.  Instead, he has made it a mission in his art to inspire non-Jews and unaffiliated Jews to think differently about the guys in the fur hats and long coats.  In one series of his prints, you’ll see religious Jews in traditional garb riding track bikes and skateboarding.  “These types of things lighten the mood,” says Cohen, “[They] show people who have no exposure to Judaism that it’s not all serious.  It’s not all business is business.” 

Cohen has a number of more intimate, religious pieces as well.  “Most of the artwork involves…themes that I’m inspired by in Torah and Kabbalah,” Cohen says, “But not like the Madonna Kabbalah. Like the real Kabbalah stuff.  It’s really deeply personal but it’s really complicated.” 

He set up his work in his upcoming exhibition at CSULB to move from the more playful prints to the pieces with more serious religious themes.  By displaying works with varying degrees of religiosity, he hopes to bridge the gap between non-Jews, non-religious Jews and religious Jews.  Cohen says, “I want to include everybody.  I want everybody to get something out of my artwork.”

An exhibition of his relief, lithograph, and silkscreen prints will be showing at the Dutzi Gallery between FA 2 and FA 3 buildings at CSULB this Sunday April 5 to Thursday April 9.  There will be a reception at the gallery April 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Student gallery openings happen every Sunday during the school year at the same time and place.

California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 985-4376, http://www.art.csulb.edu/events/index.php.  Weekday hours for student galleries are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday (Wednesday until 7 p.m.). Free parking every day in Lot 7.  Visitor’s pass required on weekdays.  Admission is free.

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