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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Where Warhol meets the Rebbe

Full-time Rabbi Yitzchok Moully expresses his faith through bold, vibrant pop art.
DARREN LEVIN reports.

IT’S 9.30pm at a Chabad House in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and artist Yitzchok Moully is putting the finishing touches on a piece for an exhibition in Dumbo, a hip suburb in Brooklyn.

Unsurprisingly, he’s the only rabbi exhibiting.

The 29-year-old father of three says he finds it hard juggling between his life as a full-time rabbi and youth director and his fledgling career as a working artist – but he doesn’t mind straddling both worlds.

“As a Chabad rabbi there are certain truths that you want to adhere to, but at the same time we are living in the YouTube age. And we’re part of that. It would be disingenuous to pretend that we’re not.

“It’s about living in two worlds and the harmony between those worlds, rather than disparity,” he explains.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Moully’s work has been attracting the eye of local collectors since his first exhibition in New York’s artistic hub, Chelsea. His pieces have since sold for upwards of $6000.

Moully describes his style as Chassidic pop art. He works in rich, vibrant colours and is “in love with repetitious images”. While his earlier pieces reflected a deep appreciation for the late Andy Warhol, Moully is eager to branch out. He’s working on a new series of images which are both “kosher and funky”.

“On the left hand side I’ll have a piece of gefilte fish and on the right hand will be a piece of sushi,” he explains. “On the left, I’ll have a kiddush cup and on the right a martini glass. I’ll have Shabbat candles and a Zippo lighter.

“That really is Chabad philosophy,” he says. “There are different ways to approach an item ... Sushi is no less kosher and no less holy than gefilte fish.”

Moully, however, is not a trained artist. An avid photographer, he first dabbled in the medium three years ago after discovering silk-screening on the internet.

“I had this expression within me that was brewing. I can’t draw, paint or sketch freehand, so photography was my voice.

“But sometimes the photos were too crisp, too perfect, too photo-like. I bumped into silk-screen and thought, ‘I could do this.’”

Growing up on a commune in northern Queensland, Moully later moved to New York with his parents at age four. Those years as a child in New York’s Lubavitcher community changed his life.

“Without those years I would’ve been a damn good surfer,” Moully jokes. “The Rebbe really instilled within me a love for my Judaism, which I may or may not have gotten on my own.”

The globetrotting family later moved back to Melbourne, where Moully studied at Yeshivah College. He was ordained in Venice in 2001, working at Chabad Houses in Israel, Russia and South Africa, before moving back to the States with his Canadian wife.

“She’s very supportive,” Moully says of his wife Batsheva. “She enjoys it. Together, we have a message. On deadline, she’s out there helping me out moving the canvasses around.”

Moully still maintains close ties with Melbourne. His parents – Moshe and Nora Elkman – are well-known in the community through their Caulfield shop, The Coat Man, and he is currently creating a piece for Rabbi Laibl Wolf’s Spiritgrow centre in Caulfield North.

“I love Melbourne, I just wish it was a little closer,” he says.

Yitzchok Moully’s work is available in Australia through Pollock Gallery, 270 Church Street, Richmond. Inquiries: (03) 9427 0003 or enquiry@pollockgallery.com.au.

To view Moully’s work visit www.hasidicpopart.com.

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