SANDOW BIRK: MONUMENTAL a collection of iconic series
Imaginary Monuments, American Qur’an, & the debut of print works Trumpagruel and American Procession with Elyse Pignolet
Prographica/KDR is pleased to present Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk’s eighth solo exhibition at Koplin Del Rio. This will mark the artist’s first exhibition in Seattle. MONUMENTAL, will include a selection of works from the artist’s iconic series: Imaginary Monuments, American Qur’an, and the debut of print works Trumpagruel and American Procession made in collaboration with Elyse Pignolet. The series are outlined in detail below.
Birk’s work comments on many facets of contemporary life, which develop into expansive, multi-media projects. With an emphasis on social issues, frequent themes of his past work have included inner city violence, graffiti, political figures, travel, war, and prisons, as well as his background in surfing and skateboarding.
The ongoing Imaginary Monuments series consists of drawings and prints that Birk began in 2007 with the drawing, Monument to the Constitution of the United States (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). They are fictional and fantastical monuments based on historic world documents and treaties. It is the artist’s intent to create a series of monumental prints and drawings that examine documents that have shaped our world and to ponder their effects on our contemporary lives.
Birk’s recent and ambitious project, American Qur’an debuted at Koplin Del Rio in Culver City in 2009 with subsequent exhibitions in 2011 and 2014 as the series was completed. This body of work, which includes over 200 paintings, was recently on view at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR (2017) and the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2016).
After the September 11 attacks, Birk was compelled to explore Islam: What it is to be Muslim and what does its sacred text, the Qur’an, represent? Then, Birk embarked on an ambitious and controversial 9-year project to create a hand-transcribed illuminated manuscript of the entire Qur’an. The artist painted contemporary scenes of American life as a complementary backdrop to a literal translation of a copyright-free Quranic text. The project strives to bridge cultures through inspired open dialogue and frank conversation.
Sandow Birk explains, “While my interest and studies and ponderings have led me through history and religion and geo-political events, at the same time, as an artist, I am interested in the artist’s activity of physically making objects in traditional ways while living in the 21st Century’s technology…Given the global situation,” he told the New York Times in 2009, “the Qur’an may be the most important book on Earth, but few Americans know anything about it. I’m attempting to create visual metaphors that … make it more accessible to Americans, more relevant to American life.”
The series is accompanied by a book published by W.W. Norton & Company, NY (2015) containing reproductions of all 114 suras completed by Birk.
The Horrible & Terrible Deeds & Words of the Very Renowned Trumpagruel is a series of lithographs created in collaboration with master printer John Pusateri while in Residence at the Auckland Print Studio in New Zealand. The images were hand-drawn onto lithograph stones during June and July of 2017. They are packaged as a suite of 11 prints inside a hand-made portfolio, which features a lithograph printed title panel and chine-collé. This is an edition of 10. The project was inspired by the books “Gargantua and Pantagruel” written by François Rabelais in the 16th Century, which tell of the adventures and misadventures of two bumbling giants.
This is a collaboration between Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, printed and published by Mullowney Press, San Francisco.
In their monumental print project American Procession, Birk and Pignolet were inspired by the Der Furstenzug
(The Procession of Princes) mural, in Dresden, Germany. Additionally, they were inspired by the concept of Heroism by depicting an imaginary parade of lesser-known heroic figures throughout American history who made contributions for better or worse. The figures depicted are on opposing sides of the political spectrum and offer a way to rethink how we arrived at our current political state, with vastly different ideologies on the left and the right.
American Procession consists of 3 monumental woodblock prints. Two measure 3’ x 17’ and a third central panel is 4’ x 6’. One elongated procession panel depicts Progressives from history marching to the right, while the other depicts Conservatives from history marching to the left. Both processions march toward confrontation (the central panel) depicting a Triumphal Arch in ruins amid the scattered debris of Americana – a police car, the Liberty Torch, bits of the Hollywood sign, an electric chair, a noose, a rural home, an old tire, while a helicopter and blimp hang over a smoke spewing power plant.
Sandow Birk (b.1962) is a well-traveled graduate of the Otis/Parson's Art Institute. He was a recipient of an NEA International Travel Grant to Mexico City in 1995 to study mural painting, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, and a Fulbright Fellowship for painting to Rio de Janeiro for 1997. In 1999 he was awarded a Getty Fellowship for painting followed by a City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fellowship in 2001 and in 2007, he was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. In 2014, Birk was named a USA Knight Fellow. Recent artist residencies include the Auckland Print Studio, New Zealand (2017); McKinney Visiting Artist at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (2017); Ballinglen Arts Foundation, County Mayo, Ireland (2016); University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA (2014); Alila Villas Soori, Bali, Indonesia (2012) and Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM (2011). Birk’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY; The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; among many others. Recent solo exhibitions include the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR (2017); Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (2017); University of Anchorage, AK (2016); SDSU Downtown Gallery, San Diego, CA (2016); Thatcher Gallery, Univ. of San Francisco, CA (2016) and Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2015). Birk has been exhibiting with Koplin Del Rio since 1993.
Birk has collaborated with his wife Elyse Pignolet, a practicing artist, on several projects, including American Procession.