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Art people: the Good Book gets a new look

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Fundamentalists might balk at Lauren Weinstein's depiction of Moses as a googly-eyed, bulbous-nosed being descending from the heavens in a swirl of multicolored crayon to deliver the Ten Commandments unto the Israelites with a cry of "Hey, buddies!" But such interpretative liberties are central to the mission of the Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible. The year-old collaborative project, spearheaded by members of the Brooklyn-based band Flaming Fire, intends to illustrate all 36,665 verses of the King James Bible plus sundry Catholic Apocrypha. They've got 35,076 more to go.

"There are just so many potent images," says Weinstein, a comics artist and singer in the band. "There's a lot of drama and a lot of surreal, weird stories and sexual stuff. I think there are some really great stories, and in an indirect way that influences me as a cartoonist."

Weinstein, who's 28, studied painting at Washington University in Saint Louis but says she turned to comics because painting "wasn't narrative enough." She says it took her a while to get good at it, but for the last five years her work--which features sweetly manic-depressive dogs, melancholy senior citizens, and an onanistic robot looking for love--has appeared regularly in the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger and on the Web site gURL.com, where a goofy strip titled "Am I Fat?" drew e-mail from thousands of body-conscious teenage girls. Last year Weinstein won a Xeric grant to self-publish a collection of her work, Inside Vineyland, which came out last month.

Weinstein met bandmates Patrick and Kate Hambrecht (husband and wife) in 1999 while helping artist Dame Darcy build a float for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, a giddy annual pageant of mermaid-inspired art and performance. Though her only previous musical experience had been in an eighth-grade production of The King and I, she didn't hesitate when the Hambrechts asked her to join their new project, originally conceived as a masked Greek chorus chanting to electronic samples. "Patrick is so crazy and charismatic and open to so many different ideas," she says. "I would never have joined a band if he hadn't been behind it."

Currently a sextet, Flaming Fire is identified on its Web site as "a metaphysical collective dedicated to making music and electronic/print art that comments on the universal ache to know meaning and/or a higher power through religion, belief and myth." Weinstein offers more concrete reference points. "Somebody once described us as the B-52's with an anger management problem--sort of new-wavey, but there's also a metal side," she says. "But it's all under Patrick's ever-shifting theology." The son of a Cooperative Baptist preacher, Patrick Hambrecht is the guiding spirit of both the band and the Bible project. "He combines a lot of different influences to create his own personal mythology," says Weinstein. "He decided that this would be a way for people to read the Bible for themselves and do whatever they wanted in terms of illustrating it."

So far 1,089 illustrations have been uploaded to the group's Internet database at www.flamingfire.com; another 500 submissions have yet to be scanned and archived. Contributions have come from friends of the band, fans at shows, Weinstein's peers in the comics world, and random denizens of the Internet. One self-described born-again Christian has contributed more than 100 drawings. "What's weird about the project is how people really get way into it--way more than I expected--without worrying that they're good at it," says Weinstein. "When there are 30,000 drawings that have to be done, I don't think people have such a feeling that this has to be perfect." There are "tons of different social and political platforms that people want to use the Bible to work through," she adds, but only a few, willfully puerile drawings--"big, throbbing phalluses, aborted fetuses"--have been rejected.

Once the project is completed--they're shooting for 2008--the band wants to bind all the illustrations into 78 oversize volumes, which they hope to exhibit, says Hambrecht, "at art galleries and performance spaces until we can find the right permanent home." Beyond that, their plans are pretty much up in the air. "I'm surprised that it even got this far," says Weinstein. "We just want to finish it by the time we die."

On Saturday, August 30, at 7:30 PM, Weinstein will read from Inside Vineyland (with sound effects by Patrick Hambrecht) and sign copies at Quimby's, 1854 W. North (773-342-0910). There'll also be an exhibition of work from the Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible, with lines of scripture and art supplies on hand for those who'd like to contribute. It's free. At 9:30 on Sunday, August 31, Flaming Fire plays at the Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western) as part of Misty Martinez's Seasonal Depression Social. Also on the bill are Martinez and Fischerspooner's DJ Unknown. There'll also be clothing, honey, vegan baked goods, kisses, and hairstyling and makeup services for sale. Tickets are $8; call 773-276-3600 for more information. For more on Flaming Fire see Spot Check in Section Three.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.

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