Saturday, July 22, 2006

The War of the Californias

One of the best things about having satellite radio is that there's always something interesting on. Yesterday I was listening to Studio 360 on XMPR (which is a channel on XM where they feature programs from NPR and PRI) and I heard a story that was interesting for radio but I thought because of it's visual nature deserved to seen as well as told.

The story is about a Sandow Birk, a southern California native, who is a surfer and a painter. Birk explains that he visited San Francisco for a gallery showing and that's where he we was confronted by San Franciscan hatred for all things Los Angeles. This experience led him to create a series of paintings which have since been collectively titled The War of the Californias.

Imagine war paintings like those by Goya, de la Croix and others that we've all seen in art appreciation classes, depicting glorious and sometimes gory battle scenes only these are set on the modern day battlefields of the Golden State instead of on Napoleonic, European ones.

You'll notice the similarities between the famous painting The Spirit of 76 and Birk's The Spirit of Los Angeles. If you look closely (click on the images to see them full size) you'll see that rather than playing a drum, the man in the center is a Dominos delivery guy drinking a Big Gulp and instead of playing a fife Birk's character on the far right is eating a sub sandwich or a hot dog. The battlefield is littered with shopping carts and you can barely make out the sign for California's ubiquitous Ralph's grocery chain in the background.

Here are some other paintings from Birk's War of the Californias series. Look at the General on horseback. He's wearing a Dodgers Jacket.

Birk has taken other famous historical paintings and given them a modern spin. My favorite is this spoof on Jaques Louis-David's The Death of Marat. Birk's version is called The Death of Manuel.

The War of the Californias has been made into a mockumentary movie called In Smog and Thunder, which is available at

To see more of Birk's work check out his site .

1 comment:

Jon K said...

The Death of Manuel is in an episode of CSI!