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Department ofArt and Art History

Sandow Birk

Sandow Birk

The Rupture of Civility

At the start of the COVID19 pandemic, Los Angeles based artist Sandow Birk began a series of metaphorical marine paintings reminiscent of European history painting, which has inspired his work since he was a student in art school. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these grand paintings often depicted battles, tragic events and disaster, emphasizing heroic action and suffering to impart lessons to viewers. 

In this twenty-first century painting, the physical size of The Rupture of Civility belies the dramatic view of a once powerful and united ship, now broken in two, adrift and tossed about as it sinks in a vast stormy sea. What appeared to be mighty and indestructible is actually quite vulnerable. Was the disaster the result of misguided navigation? A divided crew? Birds circle ominously overhead and spilled cargo is lost, as neither side of the ship is able to help the other.

Shadow The Rupture of CivilityThe Rupture of Civility, 2020
Acrylic on canvas
12" x 16"
Courtesy of the Artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery


A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops)

In recent years Sandow Birk created a series of detailed paintings that illuminate social and political issues such as police brutality, mass shootings, white terrorism and civil unrest. In A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops), Birk compresses such events into a panorama that spans night to daytime, a reminder of the constant 24-hour nature of violence in our country. Big city high-rise buildings yield to rolling green hills and intersect with streets lined with small businesses and homes. Interspersed is a church, a penitentiary, The White House, recognizable landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and locations associated with police brutality. 

Throughout this varied American landscape there are many people and there is much conflict. Life and death happen all at once in dramatic detail. Flowing one into another, Birk paints multiple historic events depicting excessive force and murder at the hands of the police. Citizens not under assault stand nearby capturing evidence on cell phones. While some people seem stunned or desensitized, others protest with signs in hand demanding accountability and change.

A Few Bad ApplesA Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops), 2019
Acrylic on canvas
26" x 60"
Courtesy of the Artist and the Koplin Del Rio Gallery


About the Artist

Sandow Birk (b.1962) is a well-traveled graduate of the Otis Art Institute of Parson's School of Design. As the recipient of many grants and fellowships, his work has brought him to locations around the globe, including: a 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. Birk was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2007 and in 2014, he 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 can be found 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). 

Sandow Birk has collaborated with his wife Elyse Pignolet, a practicing artist, on several projects, including American Procession (2017). He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Seattle, WA; P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York City; and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, CA.