Interlacing the sacred with the profane, Presidential Professor Archie Rand of the Art Department created a series of 613 paintings over a five-year period, based on the biblical commandments of the Torah. These works have been compiled in his latest book, The 613 (Blue Rider Press), a recent editor’s pick by the New York Times Book Review.

In the 640-page volume, Rand turns the exhaustive list of commandments gathered from the Torah in the Middle Ages by Jewish scholars, on their head, painting them into ordinary, secular settings. In the process, he reveals the often sacred elements of daily life.

“Working on this project I was looking at the styles of the American comic artists of the 1940’s and 1950’s, who were the Jewish inventors of this visual language,” Rand says, referring to the intellectual innovator Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit comic book series, but also others such as Jules Feiffer, Stan Lee (Spider Man) and Will Elder (EC comics and MAD magazine). Rand believes they have influenced every artist of his generation.

A Brooklyn native, Rand had his first individual exhibit at the New York Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1966. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Cinegraphics from Pratt Institute in 1970, after having previously studied at the Art Students League of New York under the abstract painter Larry Poons. Rand has had over 100 solo shows and 200 group exhibitions since, both in the United States and abroad. His paintings, graphic works and books can be found in collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum and Brooklyn Museum in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, among others.

Although Rand himself is Jewish but non-observant, his work is suffused with religious themes and imagery. He has sometimes worked in sacred spaces, including Brooklyn B’nai Yosef Synagogue, where his 1974 murals still illuminate the walls. And while some may criticize his work for being too religious—consider his series on the 19 blessings of the Amidah prayer and the 54 paintings of the divisions of the Torah—he has created images profane enough to have earned jeers from more pious critics. Still, he continues to marry the temporal with the spiritual.

Rand, who lives with his wife, Maria, a retired Brooklyn College art professor, in an old converted church in Sunset Park that is filled to the brim with his paintings, explains his most recent project this way: “The 613 is an afternoon date for coffee where the sacred and profane can check each other out.”