76 Grand Street
Friendly Frontier, an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Brad Kahlhamer, opened Thursday, October 14th at Deitch Projects.
Kahlhamer’s exuberant work reflected both his Native American heritage and his immersion in the history of modern and contemporary painting. He fused the visionary approach and dream-like space of Native American art with the gestural energy of action painting. The subject of Kahlhamer’s work was the American landscape. His version of the American landscape was teemed with wild animals, towers of rock concert amplifiers, and ecstatic portraits of the artist and his friends, both real and imaginary. Kahlhamer was also a musician playing country blues guitar, whose paintings rocked to a musical rhythm.
Kahlhamer was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1956 of Native American ancestry. Like many Native American boys of his generation, he was given up for adoption. He grew up in Arizona with his German-American adoptive parents and then moved with them to Wisconsin where he attended college. Kahlhamer spent ten years as a road musician before moving to New York in 1982, where he became a design director for Topps Chewing Gum. His work designing packaging for Topps Chewing Gum products brought him into contact with cartoonists like Art Spiegelman. He became a full-time fine artist in 1993. Kahlhamer’s background was significant in understanding his work because his path was quite different from most of today’s successful younger painters who went into full-time art careers directly out of art school. Kahlhamer had twenty years of life experience before becoming a fine artist and one felt that his paintings have been lived, not just conceptualized.
Kahlhamer’s paintings were an arena for him to explore the world of his ancestors and to create his own hybrid landscape that fused his heritage with his own contemporary experience. He thought of his paintings as his "third place," as distinct from the "first place" of his Native American heritage, and his "second place" of his more conventional American upbringing with his adoptive parents. Kahlhamer created his own personal America in his work, scrambling the real and the imaginary. The prominent use of red, white and blue in his works represented his own version of the American flag, constructed out of sky, water, and the American earth. Colors had specific symbolism in Kahlhamer’s paintings: Black was the East-- his towers of black amplifiers stood in for skyscrapers and urban development. Blue was for the sky, the wind, and velocity. Browns and reds were for the earth and for flesh. Yellow was for understanding. Transparency and openness were about possibility.
The quality of Kahlhamer’s space was dreamlike. The objects in Kahlhamer’s paintings were not weighed down by gravity and did not recede into European-style perspective. Kahlhamer painted the visionary space that he found in Plains Indians ledger drawings. The paintings were populated with a set of characters as in comic books: Ugh, Jr., Bison Girl, Prairie Girl, Bear, and Missy were among the ones who reappear. Most were surrogates for the artist and his friends, whom he brought with him into the "third place" of his painted world.
In addition to its embrace of his Native American artistic heritage, Kahlhamer’s work also reflected his enthusiasm for German Expressionist artists like Emil Nolde, for 1940s-style American cartoons, and contemporary artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat. The work was the result of a personal journey through America’s history and modern and contemporary life and art. Kahlhamer’s work gave us an animated and profound vision of the American experience.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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