Artist, educator and curator Richard Kamler has gained a reputation for taking on tough subject matter. Since the mid-1970s, Kamler has produced work built on the premise that art can help to effect social change and cultural transformation. Spark visits the artist in the studio as he works on an installation that documents his own battle with cancer.

Kamler is an installation artist whose works are often designed for locations outside the traditional museum or gallery space. “Table of Voices,” which Kamler made in the mid-1990s, was one of several he created for prisons. Installed on Alcatraz Island, the piece brought together recordings of the voices of parents of murdered children with those of the perpetrators. Visitors to the installation could pick up a phone on one side of a long table and hear the voice of a victim’s family member and move to the other side of the table to hear the voice of a convicted murderer. The controversial piece generated a heated public debate that helped to initiate a reconciliation program for offenders and victims.

More recently, Kamler has approached another subject very close to his heart. In 2004, Kamler was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, an event that temporarily suspended his art-making activities. He had his thyroid gland removed before enduring a series of radiation treatments. Kamler was struck with the paradox that the treatment for his cancer was linked to what may have caused the illness in the first place. Having grown up in an area close to numerous government nuclear testing sites, Kamler has come to believe that these tests are responsible for his cancer and that this constitutes a criminal act on the part of the government.

Dedicated to change through art, Kamler is transforming his rage over this negligence into a work of art chronicling his illness alongside the history of government nuclear testing in America. Spark visits Kamler at his studio in the Headlands Center for the Arts as he transforms his meticulous journals into a series of large charcoal drawings to be used in a broad and multilayered installation.

Richard Kamler received a B.A. in 1963 and an M.A. in 1974 from the University of California, Berkeley. He has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship in the New Genres category, an Alaskan State Arts Council/NEA grant, several California Arts Council Artist-in-Residence awards, and grants from the Gunk Foundation for Public Art, the Institute of Noetic Science and the Potrero Nuevo Fund. He is currently the chair of the visual arts department of the University of San Francisco, where he is also responsible for the art outreach program “Artist as Citizen in Contemporary Society,” which places artists into various communities.

Richard Kamler 3 August,2015Spark
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