I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver today to look closer at the work of Brad Kahlhamer. Brad’s work is scattered across the wall and mostly consists of paper works. His work on paper is characterized by quick detailed lines and balanced by bright colors. He paints female figures, animal heads, uses letters and words, and Native American iconography in watercolor, pen, ink, and acrylic. In addition to his works on paper, there were several sculptures made of cardboard in the shape of skulls and a totem pole. The pieces are arranged in a haphazard way, similar to the style of the works themselves. The watercolor is laid on so thick you can see spots where the paper is totally warped. Some of his drawings appear unfinished. Brad’s work borrows heavily from underground comix and Native American iconography. I was drawn to this aspect of his work the most.
Brad is Native American. Many artists using Native design themes, which are popular right now, are not Native American. My friends have discussed this as appropriation in a good and bad sense. A friend of mine said that this borrowing of culture from young white artists is continuing the colonial history of the relationship between Whites and Natives. Others see the designs as positive representation of Native culture. I’m not fully sure how I feel, though I like Brad’s art because it seems like there is a sense of truth behind it.
When asked about his work in an article from 2001 he replied:
Essentially, real events and people make up my characters. My work combines chronicle, myth and fantasy… I am interested in the ideas of belief. Spirituality could imply organized religion, vortexes, or robed dwarfs.
And this could not be truer. Brad’s work speaks of the American West, those who ruled these lands before us. The recent work exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art are very strong, and invites viewers to connect with social roots and identity.