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Artist of the Week: Sandow Birk

September 25, 2010

I had seen the “Depravities of War” exhibit by Sandow Birk in 2009; it was part of a two person exhibit at the Betty Rymer Gallery in the back of the Museum of the Art Institute building, by the SAIC classroom areas.  [If you are not familiar with this location, it is open to the public and usually free of charge.]  I thought these would be appropriate to post with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq pending.

I took these photos and they are close up views of absolutely huge woodcut prints.  Each piece was carved out of a four foot by eight foot sheet of plywood.  Some of the gouge and carving marks indicated by the noise of the print implied the use of large hand chisels and various power tools.  Rolls of rice paper were glued together at the edges to make sheets of paper large enough to print each woodcut.  The technical proficiency was amazing: the black ink was rich and dark, the printing was crisp.

A standard children’s picture book has fifteen pages of illustration and fifteen pages of text, and I wonder if this format was being intentionally invoked in this series of fifteen large woodcuts.  The prints were placed in order along walls with dim lighting and the narrative unfolded as I walked from image to image.  The scale was so impressive; if you have ever tried to make a woodcut, it is a challenging medium to work with.  The scale and the complexity, all of the details of each print, were engrossing.  I felt emotional about it because the stories of people I have known that were deployed to Iraq before the initial invasion or had served there later were going through my mind at the time I viewed the exhibit.

Sandow Birk’s portfolio website and the “Depravities of War” large woodcut series is here.  Click on the first image and you can go through a slide show of enlarged images for the whole series; his other works are accessible by the links on the left of this web page:


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