Downstate Correctional Facility, Fishkill, NY
Sandow Birk's beautifully executed canvas imitates iconic Hudson River School paintings, but upon close inspection presents a distant, maximum security prison, which lends the painting its title. Preparatory to creating these works, Birk, a native Californian who had applied the same aesthetic and method to the prisons in his home state, traveled throughout upstate New York, taking pictures, making sketches and researching the population, establishment, and growth in recent years of the individual prisons. He then visited museums, including New-York Historical, to closely study the Hudson River paintings of Church, Cole, Bierstadt, and others and then spent a year making the canvases first exhibited at Debs & Co. in the fall of 2002.
Using composite arrangements of scenery and structure, Birk paints with scrupulous accuracy, comparable to that employed by the various 19th century artists he mimics. The combination of 19th century context and modern high-security prisons can be read simultaneously as spoof and as social commentary.