History in print


POSTED: Sunday, July 26, 2009

Koa Gallery at Kapiolani Community College is usually closed for the second half of the summer, but gallery director David Behlke kept it open this year after taking a peek into a few crates at Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center on Maui a few months ago.

The containers held 15 giant woodblock prints by Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk collectively titled “;The Depravities of War.”; The works were inspired by Jacques Callot's “;Miseries of War”; etchings and Francisco Goya's editorial pieces on the Napoleonic War.

Birk's prints began as pen-and-ink sketches rendered from hundreds of still photographs of the Iraq war. The drawings adhered to the conventions of academic history paintings, which made them particularly interesting because their subject matter was contemporary in nature.

Birk enlarged the works at Kinko's, from which 8-by-4-foot woodblocks were carved. The collection took a year and a half to complete.

Behlke, who had been visiting the island as a Schaefer Portrait contest juror, thought the works were amazing and couldn't believe his luck when 12 of them were offered to him to exhibit at Koa Gallery.

“;No one wanted to show them,”; he said, incredu-lously. “;They were offered to The Contemporary Museum, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Everyone declined.”;

To some minds, Birk's work is highly controversial. But other might not understand what all the touchiness is about, given that the images are familiar to anyone who monitors the news these days. The pieces chronicle various stages of the war effort, including “;Invasion,”; depicting tanks crawling across a vast landscape ablaze with fires and dotted with strewn bodies, and “;Investigation,”; set in a congressional hearing.

“;Birk was not editorial-izing,”; Behlke reminds us. “;He was getting these images from online, the L.A. Times, Newsweek, etc.”;





        On exhibit: Through Aug. 6

Place: Koa Gallery, Kapiolani Community College


Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays


Call: 734-9374 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» For a copy of “;Depravities of War,”; visit www.lastgasp.com/1.




FIVE EDITIONS of “;Depravities of War”; were printed, and one set was purchased by the prestigious Los Angeles County Museum.

“;For a major American museum to recognize this work as historically important is a big deal,”; says Paul Mullowney, director of Hui Press at Hui Noeau. “;This is one of the most important projects I've ever worked on—and I've been a master printer for 25 years.”;

Birk's ties with Hui Noeau began in 2005 when the artist visited Maui to participate in the center's artist-in-residence program, wherein he provided lectures and classes to the Maui art community. Mullowney befriended Birk, and when the printmaking project came up, he invited the artist to work at the center.

Hui Press provided Birk with two full-time printers, several University of Hawaii interns and publication of his work in a hardcover catalog, complete with essays by art scholars about the artist and his collection (”;Depravities of War,”; represented by Sandow Birk, printed by Paul Mullowney, Hui Press Publications).

In it, Birk writes, “;It's fittingly ironic to say more planning went into this project than into the invasion it chronicles, but it was equally spontaneous, although perhaps less optimistic.”;

While Hawaii's reception of Birk's collection was rather quiet, other venues worldwide mirrored Behlke's enthusiasm and welcomed the chance. The show has toured Europe, New York, and Washington, D.C., and will return to Germany for another run.

“;This is one of the largest woodblock projects in recent American history,”; Mullowney says. “;I'm proud this came from a small studio on Maui.”;