LiV's Artist Review: Brad Kahlhamer @ Denver MCA

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Everyone has their own impression of what makes an artist an artist. For me, it’s people like Brad Kahlhamer, who has a visual intelligence that few will ever achieve. As a person, I would describe him as muy interesante, all around, especially the way he answers questions, thoroughly & complexly. In his work, he doesn’t follow any conventional rules of composition or color distribution. He is genuine, & paints from very deep within himself, from his feelings, from his own original thoughts, his experiences & his heritage. His collection was fascinating, on many levels. His paintings were impressionistic, surrealistic, abstract, all in one.

I’m not going to lie & say I understood his work right away. (In fact, I can’t say I left the exhibit truly understanding the themes.) My eyes had to take a lot of time to scan & absorb as much as they could, from object to object, square foot by square foot, exploring each translucent (thinly-layered) element. Skulls, self-portraits, women posed in lingerie… sex & death, basically. Sound too simple? Not the way he did it.

I took a photo of one of my favorite pieces from the show, with “Sad Beaver Lodge” written across the bottom. I was instantly drawn to it, couldn’t help staring right back at her face, at her eye & the gleam of her teeth. There’s less negative space in this one compared to many others, & I like the completeness of it. There’s a shape like a bull’s head in the middle of her chest, not that she needed anymore evidence of her strength. I’d like to know, who do the black-inked faces represent? What is the story? (I could kick myself now for this, but I had a perfect opportunity to ask him these questions, one on one, as I passed him at the drink bar. However, I was a total wuss, intimidated by the girth of his talent, & instead scurried upstairs to wander his modest exhibit on the second floor. Sigh.. I’m working on it! Got some good shots, though.)

So, how did I come to encounter Brad Kahlhamer? Last Tuesday, myself and a few select others had the honor of hearing him discuss his work (& even play an original on his guitar) at the MCA. He sat in the front of the room, spotlit left-stage, projector screen behind, clicking through page after page of his giant paintings.

He recalled his experiences in Tucson, where he grew up, and New York, where he found an abundance of inspiration. He talked about the influence of his culture on his art. He made us chuckle regularly, but didn’t crack a laugh himself until a man from the audience related his own childhood experience in Tucson, too. “Get this man a drink!” Brad said. He carried himself very casually, spoke straightforwardly. He was a very interesting man, a genuine artist, and suffice to say it was a truly insightful & well-spent hour & a half of my life.

Brad Kahlhamer’s installation in the Promenade Space on the second floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver (1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org) opens Friday, June 13 with a reception at 6 p.m.

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