Through painting, drawing, and printmaking, Sandow Birk explores contemporary social issues using styles often appropriated from iconic art-historical works. Several large woodblock prints from Birk’s series entitled The Depravities of War are themselves inspired by two earlier print series: Miseries of War by the French artist Jacques Callot (1591-1635) and Disasters of War by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). These prints combine traditional woodcut techniques with modern imagery including Jeeps and concrete bunkers. In keeping with Goya and Callot, the imagery is brutal and grotesque. The satirical realism of Birk’s painting, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Presenting His Plan for the Invasion of Iraq, is very different in form from the woodcuts but also provides related commentary on the depravities of war.
Birk cites a range of influences for his large-scale drawing, Monument to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including the work of German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). Nast’s penchant for irony—he is credited with creating both the Republican Party elephant and the Democratic Party donkey—may be noted in Birk’s rendering of the crumbling column, which is celebratory yet collapsing from its own weight.