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The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, Dante's Third Canticle by Sandow Birk
January 15, 2005 - February 17, 2005
Beginning January 15, 2005, the Hearst Art Gallery of Saint Mary's College will debut Paradiso, the third installment of a remarkable update on Dante Alighieri's early 14th century epic poem about the human condition by contemporary Southern California artist, Sandow Birk. (right: Sandow Birk, Paradiso)
Birk has collaborated with writer and editor Marcus Sanders to infuse Dante's text with a contemporary urban vernacular. Saint Mary's College professor Brother Michael Meister, FSC, who has collected and computerized more than 50 different English-language translations of the Divine Comedy, provided scholarly guidance with the re-working of the three Cantos. The exhibition will be on view through February 17, 2005.
Birk's paintings, drawings and lithographs are infused with satire, political content, humor, and irony. The Inferno, set in Los Angeles, and the Purgatorio, set in San Francisco, have been widely acclaimed during recent exhibitions in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Paradiso is set in New York.
A recipient of Fulbright, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships and National Endowment for the Arts grants, Birk's work has been shown at major museums and galleries around the country. He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles, Catherine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, and PPOW in New York, with work is in the permanent collections of the di Rosa Preserve in Napa, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the New York Historical Society.
Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders adapted Inferno, the first canticle of the Divine Comedy. In addition to rendering the language of the poem into a contemporary American English vernacular, Birk has also re-interpreted 19th century illustrator, Gustave Dore's, drawings. The text is accompanied by 71 of Birk's original lithographic images, which locate hell in contemporary, urban areas, including downtown Los Angeles. The hand-signed, continuous tone, lithographic images are drawn with an ink-filled drafting pen to create intricate cross-hatching and fine lines. The book is bound in dark red leather with gold stamping. It is the first book in the trilogy. All of the images for the book were hand drawn by the Birk who worked with Master Printer, David Salgado, to print and publish Inferno at Trillium Press. The edition is 100 (plus a number of proofs). The book contains introductions by Doug Harvey and Brother Michael Meister, FSC.
Purgatorio, the second canticle, is about the climb out of Inferno toward Paradiso. Purgatorio contains 69 original signed lithographs, a dynamic translation by the artist and co-author Marcus Sanders, and is bound in dark green leather with gold stamping. In Birk's images, Purgatory is largely located in San Francisco with trips by Dante and Virgil to Bali and Tokyo. Birk again collaborated with Master Printer David Salgado of Trillium Press, where the book was published in an edition of 100. The book contains introductions by Marcia Tanner, Brother Michael Meister, FSC, and Ron Murphy.
Paradiso is the third canticle of the Divine Comedy. Birk is again collaborating with author Marcus Sanders to adapt the text into contemporary language. Paradiso, which will situate Paradise in New York, will contain approximately 70 original lithographs and will be bound in white leather with gold stamping. It will be released in January 2005, printed and published by Trillium Press in an edition of 100. The book contains an introduction by Brother Michael Meister, FSC.
The Lithographic Illustrations
Lithography preserves Sandow Birk's autographic mark, faithfully reproducing his hand. For Birk's drawings it was important to capture the fine line of his drawings and print them with tone inside of each line. To do this, each lithographic plate, which was hand drawn by Birk, is actually a sheet of transparent, textured drafting film. Using an ink-filled drafting pen with a 000 nib, the drawings for each of the projects were done the year prior to each of the publications in the trilogy being released. For Inferno, the drawings were completed during 2002, for Purgatorio, 2003, and Birk is currently drawing the illustrations for Paradiso. Some of Birk's intricate cross-hatching and fine line work is enhanced with black pencil. As a counterpoint to the black pen lines, scratching and scraping the drawing with scalpels and razor blades create white lines and tonal subtleties. The illusion of gray from the cross-hatching becomes real gray tone in lines that have tone. The edges of the line are not mechanical, but have the nuance of drypoint without the indirect feedback of scratching on a plate. Lithography works on the principle that there is a natural antipathy between water and ink. With quadrupleinking, plus using the nap of the paper picked up on the printing blanket, the elusive continuous tone line is achieved.
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 2 - In the Heaven of the Moon)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 6 - Justinian's Oration)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 7 - Beatrice's Explanations)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 8 - Charles Martel)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 14 - The Vision of the Cross)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 15 - In the Fifth Heaven)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 16 - Caciaguida)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 17 - Caciaguida's Predictions)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 20 - Dante Before the Eagle)
(below: Sandow Birk, Canto 21 - The Ladder of Perfection)
Text is courtesy of Catherine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. Information on related lectures and performances will be announced at a later date. Images relating to the exhibition may be viewed at the Catherine Clark Gallery web site.
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