Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet, ‘American Procession’, 2017, Catharine Clark Gallery
Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet, ‘American Procession’, 2017, Catharine Clark Gallery
Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet, ‘American Procession’, 2017, Catharine Clark Gallery
Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet, ‘American Procession’, 2017, Catharine Clark Gallery

Printed by master printer Paul Mullowney, assisted by Harry Schneider, Erin McAdams, Keisha Mrotek and Max Valentine Published by Mullowney Printing, San Francisco.

Artist statement:
Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet’s large-scale woodblock, "American Procession," is inspired by Der Furstenzug (The Procession of Princes), a monumental mural on the exterior wall of Dresden Castle in Dresden, Germany. The historic mural depicts a mounted procession of the Saxony rulers, with the earliest kings leading the parade. It was originally painted in the 1870s to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the ruling family, and intending to visually convey the lineage of the rulers, with each succeeding monarch following in the footsteps of those who came before him. The mural displays the portraits of 35 royals, as well as other figures, totaling nearly 100 characters. It was originally painted in the 1870s, but soon was deteriorating due to weather. In the early 1900s, it was completely recreated on ceramic tiles. Today, at 335 feet in length, it is recognized as the largest porcelain artwork in the world.

In "American Procession," Birk and Pignolet draw from the Dresden mural and the concept of heroism by depicting an imaginary parade of figures from American history. Beginning with the chronologically earliest in the back of the line, and proceeding forward and through time, the figures are those who made remarkable contributions to history, for better or for worse. But rather than solely depict more familiar, iconic leaders from US history, most of those represented in the procession are often complicated, less known and/or polemic.

The work simultaneously brings lesser-known, but important, figures to light. The figures depicted are on opposing sides of the political spectrum, encompassing American history, from the colonies to the present day. They offer a way to reconsider our current political state, and vastly divergent ideologies on the right and the left.

"American Procession" consists of three, multi-panel woodblock prints. The two side panels measure 3’ x 17’, and the third, central panel measures 4’ x 6’. The left panel depicts progressives from history marching to the right, while the right panel depicts conservatives from history marching to the left. Both processions head toward confrontation at the middle. The central panel depicts a triumphal arch in ruins, amid scattered debris: a police car, the Liberty Torch, portions of the Hollywood sign, an electric chair, a noose, a rural home, and an old tire. A helicopter and blimp hang over a smoke-spewing power plant in the background. In the foreground, the Capitol building is presented as a mere facade, propped up with scaffolding.

The woodblocks were produced by the artists carving into plywood panels. Once carved, the panels were printed on handmade gampi paper using an offset printing press at Mullowney Printing in San Francisco. The finished prints were registered with archival glue, assembled into larger panels, and backed for strength with sekishu kozo paper.

Publisher: Mullowney Printing, San Francisco

About Sandow Birk & Elyse Pignolet

While maintaining their own artistic careers, husband and wife Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet frequently team up to create prints, installations, murals, and films, examining and often lampooning contemporary American life and politics. Merging her background as a ceramicist and his as a printmaker and painter, the couple, according to Birk, works together “really well and it’s a total team effort, from the initial ideas and discussions about concepts, to the fabrication and installation of works.” Their home city of Los Angeles often serves as their primary inspiration. Among their recent collaborations is a diptych of sorts, two lithographed maps of the world titled A Conservative Map of the World and A Liberal Map of the World (2011). Smart and sarcastic, these maps re-label land and sea according to the worldviews of liberals and conservatives—vastly opposed, equally strident.

American, based in Oakland, California

Fair History on Artsy

Charlie James Gallery at Dallas Art Fair 2014