Sandow Birk's Paradiso

January 15 - February 27, 2005

From Jan. 15 through Feb. 27, 2005, the Hearst Art Gallery of Saint Mary's College will debut Sandow Birk's Paradiso, the third installment of a remarkable update on Dante Alighieri's early 14th century epic poem about the human condition. Birk, a southern California artist, collaborated with Surfline web editor and Surfing Magazine writer 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 over the years, provided scholarly guidance with the re-working of the three canticles.

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 each been widely acclaimed during exhibitions in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Paradiso is set primarily in New York City.

In addition to rendering the language of the poem into a contemporary American English vernacular, Birk's illustrations pay homage to the work of the venerable 19th century illustrator, Gustave Dore. A first edition of Dore's Divine Comedy from the Saint Mary's College collection will be on view for the first time in the new exhibition.

Birk is a recipient of Fulbright, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships and National Endowment for the Arts grants. He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles, Catherine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, and PPOW in New York; his 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.

Paradiso contains 3 new paintings and 71 original drawings and lithographs. The third hand-made book, this one bound in white leather with gold stamping, has been printed by master printer David Salgado, and published by Trillium Press in an edition of 100. The book will be available in early 2005, followed by a trade edition, published by Chronicle Books.

A series of closing week events with Birk and Sanders will be held Thursday evening, Feb. 24, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 27, and Monday evening, Feb. 28. Specific information will be announced at a later date.

About Inferno

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.

About Purgatorio

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.

About Paradiso

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.

Notes on 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 has just completed 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.

Work shown courtesy of Catherine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. Limited editions of first two works in the series, "Inferno" and "Purgatorio" by Trillium Press. This exhibition marks the debut of the third and last in the series.

For more information about the artist, Sandow Birk, please visit or the Catherine Clark Gallery web site.

Gallery Hours: Wednesday - Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Admission Donation: $2, free parking
Main Desk: (925) 631-4379

The Hearst Art Gallery, a non-profit museum, is accredited by the American Association of Museums.


Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or