A man of many names, Aaron Hodge Greenberg Silver is a Minneapolis artist and web developer who lives with his two children, dog, and 6 chickens. Or as he puts it, “I have a great evolving menagerie of people and creatures.” He grew up in New Jersey and has since lived all over; before he came to Minnesota he was a resident of New York City. He is a long-standing member of the Beth Jacob congregation, plays the cello, and creates beautiful sculptures, papercuts, and more. Aaron also happens to be a veteran here at TC Jewfolk; he helped us design our website back in the day. His artist pseudonym is Aviv (his Hebrew name). So Who The Folk?! is Aaron?
Have you always been interested in art?
The short answer is yes. I sold my first painting when I was 8 for a $1.50. Art has been a very consistent interest throughout my whole life.
What themes do you like to tackle in your work? You have touched on social justice motifs – how does that influence what you create?
I think as far as social justice – I think that is an evolving area of my art. My art has mainly been driven by other things. The Black Lives Matter piece really stands apart from my other work. Most of my work is inspired by Jewish text, or occasionally Jewish general concepts – a lot of it is just what would look interesting in a papercut. For example, I’ve done a bunch of skeletons. I was inspired to do them because I thought the subject would work well in the medium. I also like doing animals; the challenge of the medium with the animal getting it in those colors – since I only get to use two. I recently did a zebra; if you take a piece of paper and just cut out the stripes then there you have it, a zebra.
Regarding general Jewish concepts – what pieces of Judaism have influenced you?
One text that I’ve done a bunch is “It is not for you to complete the work [of repairing the world]. Not up to you to finish it. But neither are you free to desist from it.” which comes from Pirkei Avot.
I did three or four papercuts on an English text on food, by Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I love that! That is so great. It is not explicitly Jewish but it relates to caring for the earth and respecting your body.
I can see there is a lot of Hebrew in your art. Has your style always included it?
My very first papercut was a buffalo. I started papercutting by taking a Jewish papercutting class by Deborah Ugoretz. I was 13, so it was a very long time ago. I first came into papercuts in a Jewish environment – not all of my papercuts are Jewish, but I don’t think my style has changed much over time. My most recent piece was an octopus for a friend who just loves octopuses. It usually goes like, here is a concept that illustrates text, and I will go both ways, from a concept or the direct words themselves. I make things that are more structured like Jewish papercuts; like a round mizrah – it has Jerusalem, it has the tree of life, it has lions, traditional Jewish symbols. I have done Jewish work that isn’t classically Jewish.
What kinds of mediums have you used?
The ones I’ve done the most are papercutting, clay sculpture, metal sculpture (welded steel), watercolor painting, and drawings in charcoal, pen, and pencil.
What parts of Judaism do you love?
I feel like I would need to answer that question 10 times, over 10 weeks, to describe my love of being Jewish. I like the ways that it is comforting, challenging, that it connects me to other Jews, and non-Jews. I like the way it inspires me to be a force of good in the world, I like the ways it ridiculous. I have a papercut I’m working on right now that’s very silly.
Jewish text is ridiculous – in a way that I love, it’s so human. The extended discussions of minutiae are so flexible and serious and bizarre and rich.
What are your interests outside of art?
Web development is my profession, that’s the main work that I do for income. I don’t have to depend on art for income. I don’t have to do it for money. I love bicycling – I have bicycled almost every day in December. I love biking. I keep track of the miles that I’ve biked. Over 2,500 miles this year; most of that is commuting. Often hauling both children, whenever the weather is acceptable for them.
What are my other interests… I like reading books, I know it’s old fashioned. I like cooking. I’m in a cookbook book club – it’s so much fun. Also keeping my children alive and enriching my relationships I have with people in my life. And tracking data.
I have also done a lot of website development for Jewish organizations: a lot of synagogues and non-profits. I’ve worked with about 10-15 synagogues all over the country, from Texas to New York.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
My favorite Jewish holiday is Shabbat my second is Sukkot.
I find it hard to put Shabbat into words. It is an essential part of my life. Putting other things aside and connecting with people, resting, making a different space for time outside of the rest of the week. For Sukkot: I love eating outside, the vulnerability of being outside. Especially if it is chilly. I love the lulav and etrog; they are just so ancient and strange. What meaning did this have for people 2,000 years ago? There is something primal and connective. We don’t have anything like that in the modern world.
My third favorite is Yom Kippur. I rank it above Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur is the might be the most meaningful. It demands more of me. It makes me feel connected to my community in a way that rivals Shabbat.
Favorite Jewish food?
I have no idea how to answer that. I object to the question. I object to the idea of a favorite food or Jewish food.
How can people buy your art?
Go to my website and if they find a piece that is available then they can send an email.
I also do a lot of work on commission; if there is a new baby in the family, if they know a couple who is getting married, [etc], I really love doing those. Probably half of the work I’ve done in the past two years is commissioned.
I’m going to be in an art show called Words@Work at the Sabes JCC opening on Feb. 9-March 26, 2017. It will be me and two other local artists. I will have a bunch of new work, and I think all of it will be for sale. A lot of word-based papercuts!Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!