Miami Artist Cayla Birk. Is Mixing Hidden Codes Into Her Pantone-Inspired Paintings

Each of the artist's works comes with an accompanying object to help collectors decode a hidden meaning.

Cayla Birk.
Cayla Birk.

In art history classes, students are taught to read paintings through iconography—the visual symbolic languages that artists of a given culture have developed—but rarely do artworks ever come with an actual decoder. 

Enter the Palm Beach-based painter Cayla Birk.

Birk., who is 30, is obsessed with codes—she says she imagines ciphers everywhere—and she has translated that passion into her art. Each canvas is sold with a secondary art object that helps collectors unravel the unique message she has hidden in the work. 

“Some people call it a talisman, some people call it a toy. It is a decoder above all, if I was going to call it something,” she says, noting her admiration for artists who, like Takashi Murakami, incorporate toy-like imagery into their works. 

Cayla Birk's Miami Studio.

So far Birk. has created three series of works: “Birktones,” “The Periodic Table of Relevance,” and “Scriptures.” Her first series, “Birktones,” was inspired by—you might have guessed it—Pantone color swatches. The artist started her career in advertising, where she first began working with Pantone colors. 

“Let’s say we both worked for McDonald’s creatively: if I’m designing something here and you’re designing in India, and we want to use the exact same colors of red and yellow across multiple platforms, then we would know which exact colors to appropriate due to the Pantone numbers associated with each color,” she said. Her interest in the coding of colors launched the young artist headlong into the world of hidden codes.

The “Birktones” series included canvases coated entirely with a single Pantone color, but with inscribed graffiti-like markings spiraling in different directions across the canvas. Each work was sold with a spray-paint canister used to make the work, but locked so they can no longer be used. 

Her subsequent series, “The Periodic Table of Relevance” and “Scriptures,” have respectively reimagined the periodic table and medical prescriptions to the idiomatic quirks of American life and language today. In Birk.’s reconfigured periodic table, “H” (helium) is now “Hustle” and Br (bromine) is “Brunch.” These works are paired with matching Erlenmeyer flasks. The “Scriptures” series, Birk.’s current ongoing project, creates imagined prescriptions for daily life and matches them with brown glass pill bottles, known as pill packers. 

“I would like to think, what my hope is, is that my works demand a step forward. They catch your eye and you look closer and realize that they’re filled with other symbols now someone is kind of stuck sitting there looking through everything, trying to see what they can read,” said Birk. 

What exactly are these encrypted messages, you wonder? Birk. is hesitant to unveil particular meanings, but she does let viewers know where the riddles can be found. “For the ‘Periodic Table’ works, the atomic weight that’s on the bottom in each piece is also an alphanumeric cipher. And then with the ‘Scripture’ works, these messages are encoded to just the RX number that’s featured only on the glass pill jars,” she explained.

“I would like to think that my art, and its codes, in some way brings people outside of what they normally think and opens them up to something that they’ve never experienced before,” said Birk.  

See images of Birk.’s works below and more with House2Six, through the Artnet Gallery Network. 

Cayla Birk, Buy Me Art from "Scriptures" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Honey, I’m Home (2020) from the “Scriptures” series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Honey, I'm Home (2020) from the "Scriptures" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Accompanying pill bottle for Honey, I’m Home (2020) from the “Scriptures” series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk, Xanax for "Birktone" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Xanax for “Birktone” series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk, Xanax for "Birktone" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Xanax spay canister for “Birktone” series. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Cayla Birk, Hustle for "Periodic Table of Relevance" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., Hustle for “Periodic Table of Relevance” series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk, accompanying Hustle flask or "Periodic Table of Relevance" series. Courtesy of the artist.

Cayla Birk., accompanying Hustle flask or “Periodic Table of Relevance” series. Courtesy of the artist.

 


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