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Brad Kahlhamer: Bronwyn Keenan Gallery, New York
Uscha Pohl

Brad Kahlhamer, Flying Braid, 1997, gouache and ink on paper

The idea for me to write about Brad Kahlhamer's paintings came up on Devon Dikeou's doorstep in the early morning hours of the first cold night of fall. Brad Kahlhamer's first solo painting exhibition was on view at "BK" (Bronwyn Keenan Gallery) and I had just seen it again.

Well, if Brad Kahlhamer's last catalogue essay had been an intimate account written by his shrink, maybe it would be possible to capture the meaning of his work from a purely introspective, rather than art historical, point of view. While still chatting, a bubble-like visual message appeared in my mind as if to describe the essence of the text. All of the paintings in the show melted into one canvas that formed one illuminated core. Arrows kept running around the outer borders, lifting the entity from the background in sculptural three-dimensionality. At the same time they seemed to point out at a deeper meaning, that the canvas was actually a piece of writing paper and the abstract images were poetry in paint. This was what I now had to capture in words.

Time passed.

One night, after spending a beautiful day out in the brightest defoliating mountains upstate, a rare feast for the senses, I was awoken by a phone call. Not being able to get back to sleep, images kept appearing in front of my eyes. There they were again--Brad's paintings. How did they speak, what was their language? Somehow it was very clear--they reached out to people, seemingly silent and self-concerned, and they hit a nerve. Their abstract aloofness balanced discreetness and directness while remaining an entity of their own.

A velvety, long-leafed flower in delicate citrus yellow sprang to mind. A short stem, lean leaves, a cartoon image having taken on a life, stood there, gently moving but not budging. It didn't go away, although it seemed so unrelated. A rather remote connotation. Never had I seen a color of this kind in any of the paintings. Cartoon images, yes--we like it a little goofy at times, and didn't Brad have a long history in cartoons through his work at Bazooka advertising? This could possibly be related. Buy why such a flower?

Transcribing the images of dry elegance versus tribal abstractions, I would like to juxtapose them with the serenades and etudes of Bach. Highest discipline blended with innate intuition. Two worlds. 18th century Europe music school, and childhood dreams of late 20th century native and new American culture--they don't meet, they just hit the same chords.

Here, through the web of brush strokes, we find a search for spirituality, a fascination with nature and the wild, the animal, and the animal within us. The invitation to the gallery displays it in an almost paradoxical way where video stills arrest footage of the artist himself at the entry of a dark cave, maybe without a way out, watching close-ups of javelinas, wild boars, distorted and abstracted through the closeness to the camera. A macho dream of animal power blends with the respect of the unknown.

Turning in my semi-sleep, the image of the sweet and smirky cartoon character of a flower trying to tell me something, stubbornly stayed with me. Finally it made sense. I had to see it more abstractly. The lucid plant stood for the soul behind it all, optimistic and childlike with an inkling for the cute and cuddly. The necessary naiveté and a touch of humor which we need to take ourselves seriously. And beauty met the beast.

Uscha Pohl

New York, New York

1997

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