January 18, 2019

Daniel Rolnik: ‘The world’s most adorable art critic’

Daniel Rolnik bills himself as “The World’s Most Adorable Art Critic,” and if you speak to him for even a minute, it’s easy to see why. Animated, passionate, whimsical and delightfully upbeat, Rolnik, 24, has made it his mission to introduce people to new and exciting artists, and more recently, to Judaism as well.

Rolnik’s journey toward becoming an art critic was a decidedly unusual one. He was studying audio engineering in college when he decided that he’d like to interview some of his favorite artists for his blog.

“I would just e-mail people and say, ‘Hey, you’re awesome. Here are my questions.’ ” 

Surprisingly, the bold approach worked, and Rolnik soon found himself interacting with artists such as Gary Baseman, whom he’d looked up to as a kid and who is currently the subject of a major exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center. The college kid with no background in art started making a name for himself; soon he was writing stories for magazines like LA Weekly and Artfetch

Recently, Rolnik and his friend Ryan McIntosh, a non-Jewish printmaker who frequently attends artists’ Shabbat dinners at Rolnik’s mother’s home, discussed how they might spread the joy of Jewish art to the wider community. The idea of doing a series of screenprints for the May 19 Venice Art Walk came up, and McIntosh volunteered to make the prints. 

“I call him the wizard,” Rolnik said, “because he makes these things seem so easy, and it’s so hard.”

Screenprinting is a technique that involves using woven mesh stencils to fill particular areas of a blank surface with ink. When working with multiple colors, this requires multiple stencils to achieve the desired effect. It’s a process that’s done by hand, something that was important to Rolnik, who is dismissive of the many digital prints sold today.

“We assembled a list of dream artists,” and most of them agreed to take part, he said. 

Besides McIntosh and Baseman, some of the artists whose screenprints will be available include Jason Shawn Alexander, Bob Dob, Christine Wu, Daniel Edwards, Gregory Siff, Eric Joyner and Michael Sieben.

“Screenprints are what I collect and what a lot of my friends collect because we can afford them,” Rolnik said. “And they’re cool. They’re made by hand.” 

On top of purchasing pieces of artwork for themselves, buyers also will be giving to charity. Rolnik and McIntosh are donating some of their profits to the Venice Family Clinic. 

Rolnik, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, frequently travels around the globe looking for new and exciting art. 

“I don’t just do fine art, or street art, or lowbrow — I cover everything,” Rolnik said. 

That diversity of tastes is evident in the screenprints that will be for sale. Some are incredibly abstract, others bold and in-your-face, including one that depicts a cartoonish devil with the word “Blood” written beneath it. Others, like Sieben’s piece, are colorful and playful. 

Rolnik is proudly Jewish, even saying that he considers himself a Jewish-American before an American. He decided a little more than a year ago that he wanted to combine his love for art with his Jewish pride. 

He’d grown bored with family Shabbat dinners and wanted to try something new, so he asked his mother if he could host an artists’ Shabbat at her home, as his own apartment was too small. What started out as a small dinner among friends has grown into something of an underground event where dozens of people show up. 

“Some are really spiritual, some are Orthodox, some are not Orthodox … but at their core, they’re all Jewish,” Rolnik, who grew up in a liberal Jewish home, said of the artists’ Shabbat attendees. “We even have non-Jewish people sometimes, and they get such a kick out of it.”

Without the Shabbat dinners, it’s likely Rolnik’s screenprint project never would have come about. 

Baseman and Mark Hanauer, two artists who frequently attend Rolnik’s dinners, are “always talking about how it reminds them of Toulouse-Lautrec and how those Paris salons would have been,” Rolnik said. “I’m actually a really shy person.” 

He credits the dinners with opening him up to a whole new set of friends, including those whose works appear in the screenprint series.

Rolnik will be selling his prints at the entrance to the art walk from noon to 5 p.m. at 360 Hampton Drive, directly behind Google’s Venice office, and they will retail for $50 to $300, depending on the artist. The idea of doing something that would be affordable to even young collectors really appealed to Rolnik. 

He hopes the pieces will be big sellers, but there’s something more at stake: getting more young people involved in both the art world and in Judaism. One might expect no less from a critic whose favorite Shabbat T-shirt, made by artist Will Deutsch, reads simply, “I’m the Jew Mel Gibson warned you about.”