Photos and Words by David Downs
Santa Monica artist Sandow Birk first came to our attention through his updated version of Dante's Inferno -- vividly set and illustrated in Los Angeles.
That was 2003. Birk's back with the "Depravities of War," ( click here to view the slideshow ) which debuted Thursday, September 6 and runs through October 20th, comprised of 15 huge, high-contrast, chunky, savage, aggressive and ...
jagged prints made from 4 by 8-foot woodblock cuts. Birk made them during a residence in Hawaii over the last 18 months with the help of six assistants. The results dwarf imagination.
'The Depravities' appear like a wholly logical follow-up to something like a study of post-apocalyptic L.A.
Birk said he wanted to work on the theme of Iraq and since he had a residence at a Hawaiian printer, he decided to try his hand at large-scale wood cuts. The first one turned out alright, he said, so then they pumped out 14 more.
The 32 square-foot pieces of plywood are birch, and come from Home Depot, he says. Birk would do the initial designs with small studies, then scale them up, block em out and turn parts over to his assistants for the laborious chipping, gouging, sanding, screwdriving and whatnot.
The process resulted in happy accidents, he said, like the detailing on some of the faces.
After he did the 15, he decided to continue on with a few more oils as well, which is where we get the vivid 'Soldier and the Sphinx', and the 'The Liberation of Baghdad.' ( click here to view the slideshow )
Birk has mastered the retooling of iconography, and here he posits the iconic American soldier in an interrogation with another icon of the Middle East -- the riddling and mythic Sphynx, who challenged travelers like Jason to answer its questions before they could continue on their quest. Birk said it illustrates America's position in the Middle East, unable to pass until we solve a potentially unsolveable problem. See more work at the Catharine Clark Gallery. Actually, phyiscally go check it out Tuesday when the gallery opens at 10:30 a.m.