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In the Art Gallery:
Sandow Birk Revisits The Divine Comedy

 

Sandow Birk, Inferno, 2003. Oil on acrylic on canvas, 66 x 120 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art. Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, in honor of the San Jose Museum of Art's 35th anniversary.

 

 

Sandow Birk, Purgatorio, 2003. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 x 120 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art. Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, in honor of the San Jose Museum of Art's 35th anniversary.

 

 

Sandow Birk, Paradiso, 2004. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 66 x 120 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art. Museum Purchase with funds contributed by the Museum’s Collections Committee.

 

 

Sandow Birk, Greyon —The Beast of Fraud, 2002. 15 x 12 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art. Gift of Peter and Beverly Lipman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dante Alighieri changed the course of literature when he wrote his 14th century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in Italian rather than in Latin. California-based realist painter Sandow Birk and journalist Marcus Sanders have taken the approach a step further, producing an enthralling, relevant, and humorous contemporary English-language version of Dante's work.

Each of the three books in the project--Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso--are enlivened by more than 100 of Birk's lithographs and paintings, cast in recognizable modern American cities, like San Francisco and New York. They are filled with images from daily life: Traffic-choked highways, ubiquitous fast-food signs, graffiti. Reminiscent in their precision to Gustave Dore's 19th century plates, Birk's illustrations are rich in detail and all the more powerful for their contemporary settings.

"Hell," says Birk, " is set in alleyways and mini-malls and next to dumpsters."

The San Jose Museum of Art will showcase Birk's remarkable illustrations from September 25 to January 8.

The volumes of The Divine Comedy illustrated by Birk are available from Chronicle Books. The books describe a pilgrim's journey into the afterlife: Down to hell, up through Purgatory, and, finally, to Heaven.

"About halfway through the course of my pathetic life, I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark place. I'm not sure how I ended up there; I guess I had taken a few wrong turns," write's Dante through the lens of Birk and Sanders.

A film version of Birk's adaptation of Dante's Inferno, performed in the 19th century British style of puppetry known as Toy Theater, also is available.

 

 

 
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