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Sandow Birk

Artists Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet bring Bali to life on the page.

SANDOW, what’s the early story?
Born in Detroit, Michigan, 1962; moved to the Los Angles suburbs when I was five; went to Otis Art Institute (of Parson’s School of Design); dropped in and out of art school for many years before I finally finished a year of study in Europe. Half a year in Paris and England … that was in my 20s. Spent another four years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, back to Los Angeles and been a painter ever since.
Did you always have a career in painting in mind?
Actually I didn’t, I was sort of the kid that drew in math class, I really didn’t start thinking about being an artist until I stumbled into art school.
What kind of art did you start out with?
I’ve done a whole lot of traveling in my life as a surfer, so the first paintings I did were places I travelled to.
A reporter in life through canvas, so to speak…?
Sort of, I guess you could call it realism.
What’s interesting is, you do a lot of your paintings with your wife, Elyse Pignolet. How does that work and how did that come about?
We met about 10 years ago in Los Angeles and have been together ever since…got married a couple of years ago and have a child.
Elyse’s background artistically?
She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and studies ceramics.
Usually most artists are self-indulgent …don’t touch my canvas sort of thing …how did the collaboration come about?
Elyse has her own ceramic studio outside of the house in a different neighborhood, so she does her work (and I do mine); we’ve done some really large projects together – big murals, a metro station in Los Angeles.
Sandow Birk2So art has been good to you?
Yeah…for about 15 years now.
How long have you been coming to Bali?
I’ve been here six times…the first time was in 1993.
So you’ve seen a lot of changes since then?
The last time I was here was seven years ago in Canggu, surfing … it was really difficult to find (the beach) in the rice fields.
So how did the Deus Ex Machina exhibition come together?
Because of Susi Johnston. Last time I was here my wife and I were working on a big outdoor wooden gate for a house being built in Hawaii. We designed it and it was being carved here, so we came to see the project and the carvers. Susi was sort of the facilitator on the project – we met, liked each other, kept in contact and she kept saying: “You have to come back to Bali.” So she arranged a week at the Alila Resort. We decided to stay on and do this project because we’d met the Deus team in Sydney, Australia, where they have a place, and in Los Angeles where they opened another venue…same set up as here.
So you will be having exhibitions in all of the Deus destinations?
I’d like to.