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Jewish learning “In the Beginning”: Art Exhibit Features Works by Mel Brown

By Joshua Polanski
black and yellow painting by Mel Brown

“All of the paintings in the current exhibition are titled B’reishis. This is the thread running throughout all these paintings. Using an abstract visual language, I have found myself exploring some very fundamental ideas that hints at what perhaps was happening ‘In the Beginning,’ when somehow the ‘world’ came into being, when form came out of ‘chaos,’ when ‘thingness; came out of ‘no-thingness,’” said Mel Brown, a self-taught painter and occasional mystic. (Pictured above: B’reishis 37 12 x 16, Acrylic on Canvas)

Beginning September 10th, Hebrew College will be showing a collection of Brown’s acrylic and ink on canvas paintings in an exhibit called “In the Beginning” in the Atkins Atrium. “In many of my paintings in this exhibition, I am also exploring the idea that the world was somehow formed with letters and language, specifically with the Hebrew letters, as suggested in the early mystical Jewish text Sefer Yetzirah, that these forms and shapes are perhaps what brought the world into being,” added Brown, who has been connected with Hebrew College since the early 2000s when his mentor Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi recommended he study with Hebrew College’s Rabbi Nehemia Polen.

The exhibit runs from September 10 – December 14, 2023 and is organized by the Hebrew College Arts Initiative. The exhibit opens with an event on September 10th from 5-7 p.m. celebrating the launch of Hebrew College’s first art exhibit of the new academic year.

mel brown painting“For me, there are many layers to his art—the ink, paper, primary colors, calligraphy, and stark images are integrated like a romance with a spontaneity of first impression—a huge evolving spiraling of energy,” said Deborah Feinstein, founding chair of the Hebrew College Arts Initiative. “And then, there is a stop: time stands still as one is drawn into a meditation—a practice in many ways of living—zen, mussar, Jewish mysticism.” (Above: B’reishis 74, 20 x 16, Acrylic & Ink on Canvas)

Brown’s art is directly informed by his own relationship with Torah. “Through painting, starting with a process of meditation and listening, I often embark on a visual conversation with the ideas of the Torah text, exploring such things as beginnings and the idea that the world as we know it was shaped by language,” he said. “My work is also often informed by the fact that the Hebrew language seemingly came into being at the time of the transition from pictographic to phonetic writing and therefore Hebrew letters most likely hold essential visual, symbolic meanings as well as phonetic meaning.”

The opening event includes a talk by Brown and light refreshments will be served. The event is free but registration is required. Brown’s original artwork and limited edition prints are available for purchase. Half of the proceeds will go to Hebrew College.

mel brown painting

B’reishis 95, 16 x 20 | Acrylic & Ink on Canvas

Mel is engaged in creating non-representational art that is unique and evocative, drawing on his own wide-ranging experiences, his sense of mystery, and his ongoing engagement with ancient Jewish texts. His work often visually hints at the ongoing and ever-changing mystery of creation. In its beauty, his art inspires the viewer to wonder. “I hope that viewers at the very least might see a certain simple beauty in my art that hints at the mystery of the world as well as the mystery within each of us, yielding perhaps a fleeting moment of awe or wonder,” added Brown.

“It has been an honor to work with Mel for this exhibit. As a museum curator for over 25 years and a lifetime learner here at Hebrew College, I feel that Mel’s art has created a space for me and all viewers to become part of his expressions,” said Feinstein.

Mel Brown is a self-taught painter, entrepreneur, and an occasional mystic descended from a family of Eastern European rabbis that originally came from Spain. He grew up in a working-class steel town in Northwest Indiana. For many years he has also been a dedicated student and teacher of Jewish mystical texts. In addition to leading intimate study groups in a line-by-line parsing of the Torah, he also co-leads a post-denominational Jewish spiritual community in the Boston area.

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