YONDERING THROUGH THE SOCIAL LANDSCAPE OF AMERICA
Brad Kahlhamer’s journey is a physical ongoing pilgrimage. Born of Native descent, Kahlhamer was adopted by German-American parents and eventually moved from his birthplace Tucson, Arizona to Wisconsin and from there to New York in 1982.
Drawing and painting out these schisms between lived experience and a learned knowledge of a past unknown describes Kahlhamer’s search for a utopia or an alternative world where both the desired and the real can sit in permanent dialogue.
This “Third Place” as Kahlhamer terms it, becomes an almost spiritual location where the illusory and actuality can reconcile amongst a vibrant and chaotic amalgamation of visual imagery, both remembered and imagined.
Rapid City evolves like a storyboard to Kahlhamer’s ever growing filmic visualisations of his environment. Several characters and motifs persist, returning again and again in different guises, walking the eye to the next encounter as it begins to play out in a neighbouring image.
Bright mixes of watercolours and graphic inks colour the drawings while thread-like black lines creep from drawing to drawing, intertwining themselves between each figure and from one image to another.
These lines are reminiscent of the delicate renderings of everyday life and depictions of battle drawn within the Plains Ledger books found in Northern America. A vivid key to the visual storytelling of Native Americans are held within these books, forming the earliest chapter in the history of America’s graphic narration.
This looking to the past also pushes forward within Kahlhamer’s constructed figures that sit sentry-like alongside his paintings and drawings. The artist terms these as Spiritual Advisors and as they guard and survey the spaces in which they sit, they are also a reminder of the physical and spiritual journeys within Kahlhamer’s world.
One such object is a 10ft totem pole. Originally shown in early 2008 at Modern Art, London the sculpture titled Waqui Totem USA, has since been transcribed from its original cardboard and pins into an exact cast in bronze. As it sits now in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, this monument contains within the process of its own making a kind of song-writing shorthand that describes the movement through the temporal to the permanent.
Kahlhamer fuses such psychic and cultural influences alongside his interests in contemporary comic books and pop and urban cultures but chooses not to delineate differing importance, seeing them instead as part of a continuing and developing shared landscape of memories.
Kahlhamer is also an accomplished musician, regularly playing with others as well as performing and writing his own songs.
This greater and far-reaching sense of time - its ebb and flow - inherent within Kahlhamer’s own understanding of his surroundings, plays out in the lyrical and epic feel of the scenes he begins to set before us.