Third Street Gallery archive: 2009 Exhibitions: The Depravities of War - Monumental Woodcuts by Sandow Birk


The fifteen large-scale works flow through a timeline, taking the viewer through pivotal points and moments of the ongoing war in Iraq.  From both American and Iraqi landscapes, Sandow Birk brings forth in The Depravities of War, the horrific battle scenes and infinite travesties of this ongoing affair.  In collaboration with HuiPress in Makawao, Hawaii, the traditional woodcut printmaking process openly displays the detail and time consuming work ethic that Birk utilizes.  Birk’s series The Depravities of War, engages the viewer in an intriguing physical landscape distorted by the repercussions of warfare, captivating the viewer upon initial consideration.  

Based in southern California, in the past Birk has dealt with many social issues within his art often dealing with matters of race, gang affiliations, and political injustice—often done so in a unique, satirical fashion.  Frequently referring to paintings of art historical relevance; in the series The Depravities of War, Birk references the work of Jacques Callot and his suite of prints “Les Misères et Les Malheurs de la Guerre”, Callot’s artistic personal response to the Thirty Years War.  In order to capture our current disposition in Iraq, Birk abstractly branches from the classical styling of Callot.  Utilizing every bit of space, he physically mars his surfaces—leaving his work politically charged—making them relevant to today’s issues.

Birk seeks to bring forth an awareness in his viewers, focusing on the problems he sees surrounding our society. He attempts to show the public, for the best or worst, what is exactly going on in American culture.

In The Depravities of War, through Birk’s woodcuts, he makes snapshots of the monumental events that have been going on in the war and shows the viewer a different, eye-opener approach to it.  Birk gathers the blitz of media perspectives and synthesizes them into black and white statements.  The scale of the series shows the in-depth time consuming work that has gone into the series.  The detailed atmosphere and scenery captivate and give astonishment when seeing them.  He presents the figures in a simplified version, not giving much detail to the individual.  The images have an editorial feel to them, almost as if seeing them in the newspaper.  The fleeting images of the mass media gives people a numbing feeling on the war, thus betraying the media’s essential amoral approach.   Birk’s scale and craft slow our perceptions down allowing us to feel the substance of what is going on, showing the viewer a glimpse of the brutal reality of war.  Birk’s woodprints bring the impact of truth upon our perceptions of the war and its repercussions on its victims.

Andrea Castillo is an intern at Humboldt State University First Street Gallery