Chassidic Pop Art: Moully’s Colourful Soul

by Milad Doroudian
March 30, 2015

here are things that just don’t seem to mix at times, such as mustard on oatmeal, but when it comes to pop-art and Hasidic Judaism, you might just be surprised at how well the two go together.

Yitzchok Moully, a rabbi, a man of learning, and a brilliant artist dwells majestically into the world of pop art, and post-pop art rather tactfully. With works that blend the modern twists of aesthetics with the old teachings of Judaism, he manages to plunge the viewer into the imperceptible realm of non-contradictory dualities. What might seem as contrasting ideas, in fact are shown to be not so mutually exclusive.

The first thing that reveals itself rather immediately, is the canny use of colours upon satisfying screen prints, and visually refined canvases. In fact, the use of colours is what makes Moully’s work so special, for he has taken what we know as pop-art and he has refurbished it with more inspiring and dazzling colours.

In a sense there is something rather confounding to the colourful means that Moully employs so skilfully, especially in his abstract work that resembles gaudy and vibrant firework shows. Perhaps the best example of this is the piece where a man is blowing a shofar, where colourful streams are shown to permeate from it, as reserved for the ears of the children of Yisrael.

It becomes immediately obvious therefore that the extravagant use of colours is not only meant as a hollow, or shallow exhibition for the pleasure of the eyes, rather it is meant to touch the very human soul through an understanding of the thematic concepts of Judaism. They are inherently a demonstration of the way Moully views his own spirituality, as something beautiful, and worth jubilating over.

In contrast to the ‘traditional’ methods such as those popularized by Warhol, like most pop-art, where the work was/is empty and void of ideas(in fact I would go as far to call it, I dare say, shallow), Moully has taken the methods of pop-artistry and has given them a deeper meaning, and a link to humanity. His works although might seem to be inspired elementally from the ‘pop-art’ period, they are not depthless, rather they are full of soul.

When asked about this infusion of the modern and the Judaic classic, Moully answered: “My work is an expression of my beliefs and spirituality. Sometimes the inspiration for a new piece comes from a belief or something I learned and sometimes I look to convey a particular thought through my art.”

It doesn’t take long to get the jist of Moully’s themes. A dreidel here, a hamsah there, maybe some dancing hasids. The use of traditional imagery, and symbols become wholly intermixed as the main visual cues in his works, yet they are mere gateways to more complex ideas. In a sense, at least what I gathered, is that there is a perceptible celebration of spirituality, amid the changing and rapidly expanding world.

To the question of whether Moully sees this type of art and the world of Hasidic Judaism colliding he answered: “Not at all. My series ‘Ritual Objects’  juxtaposes traditional items with their contemporary counterpart. The inspiration for the series is that we can use mundane items from the world around us to connect to G-D and make the world a better place. It is not just traditional silver candle sticks that can be used for lighting Shabbat candles. A girl or woman can take a zippo lighter and make a blessing on it, creating a ‘contemporary Mitzvah’.”

Interestingly this is the thing that is on the mind of most millennial Jews today, yet also those that have no connection to traditional Judaism: is there such a thing as a “contemporary mitzvah?” The answer is that of course there is, and that the way that some wish to engage with their own spirituality must provide colour in their own lives, in their own ways, similar to the contrasting worldviews found on Moully’s canvases.

He himself believes that the “essence of Chassidic thought is far from black and white,” which is a concept that is readily seen in his pieces. Extravagancy of colour is something that people in their pre-conceived notions do not usually associate with the Chassidic community, but Moully shows us that those notions are definitely not the case.

In fact Moully made it clear that his art has been welcomed by his community: “Rabbis and the Chassidic community have celebrated my work, I have received virtually no push back. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was very encouraging of artists using their talents to express their joy for Judaism in their art.”

Born in Australia, Moully describes himself to have been raised, and “exposed to far more color than one would expect in the rigorously orthodox Chassidic community.” He moved to Brooklyn at the age of five where he joined the Chabad community, and later attended the Rabbinical College of America and became a Rabbi. Although he did not have any formal training, such as art classes, not that those are in any way necessary for good artists, Moully dabbled in numerous forms of artistry until he chose silkscreen prints as his forte. He lives in Basking Ridge NJ,  together with his wife Batsheva and five children.

Perhaps the most surprising fact that I came across in regards to Moully, was that he and his work was featured on Oprah’s Next Chapter, where he was interviewed as part of a series that explored the life and times of individuals inside the Chassidic community of Brooklyn, New York. In the small snippet of the interview I was not surprised to find out that he said that it is all about “breaking barriers, and changing people’s perceptions,” all the while showing off his pink kippah, and orange socks. Colour never ceases to follow this man, rather, this mensch.

“I have recently shifted and become a full time artist, and began a non-profit ‘The Creative Soul’ – dedicated to ‘exploring and celebrating Judaism through the arts.” said Moully.

“I am planning a country wide road trip this summer to bring my work to as many as I can. Working with synagogues, community groups, art fairs and Jewish camps, I’m excited to share my work, lead art workshops and speak on the power of creativity in Judaism.”

Although he spends most of his time working on his art, he also does his best to promote his work to the world. For instance he recently visited the west coast, and Florida in a series of shows that he put on for various communities across the country. However, he is most proud of being the founder of The Creative Soul, “an organization established to  celebrate and promote creativity in the Jewish community.” The organization mainly wishes to encourage new artists in Chasidic Jewish communities to express themselves through their art and thus share their “unique experiences with the world.”

Moully’s work is undeniably intriguing, and a nice break from the exigencies of melancholy which we find ourselves through the breadth of Jewish artists, secular, liberal, or orthodox. In fact his work is far from somber, but a celebration of the rich traditions of Judaism, that are appealing to many Jews from all walks of life, and even non-Jews.

“I have a host of new ideas that I am working on, from neon to lazer cut metal. I am exploring light and dark, both as a concept, as well as practically. Im excited to see where these take me.” he said. Wherever these will take him, we can be sure they will be representative of his colourful soul.

To see more of Moully’s art visit his online gallery.