W ith its bold primary colors, its playful mashup of popular Jewish icons with sacred figures of tradition, and its introspective autobiographical flourishes, the art of Joel Silverstein provides a new way of seeing and expressing contemporary Jewish and American consciousness.

Brooklyn-born and raised amidst the confluence of cultures near Coney Island, Silverstein was influenced at an early age both by Cecil B. De Mille’s “The Ten Commandments” and by the sight of Holocaust survivors on Brighton Beach. The spiritual and artistic inspiration – and the secular and sacred merger of lurid popular culture with horrifying reality – would come to inform his work to this day.

Digging through the crates of American and Jewish popular ephemera, Silverstein’s art provides a space where the Golem, the Incredible Hulk, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, Houdini and Moses can mingle as one. But he adds images of himself – rarely flattering, but just as palpably Jewish if not more so than the icons seared into our collective memory – as if to playfully remark on the abyss between our majestic mythology and our all-too-human frailness. In so doing, Silverstein makes us rethink what we have come to accept as iconic heroism while shining a new light on the culture, history, spirituality, and memory that constitute our Jewish selves. As Silverstein writes, “If Judaism is a culture, a people and perhaps a civilization, then Jewish art is not an anomaly but a necessity.”

Below: Ten Commandments and a Question; Hulk Meets Samson; Revelation at the Beach; Superman In Exile; Gentlemen Krypton is Doomed.