It may sound supernatural, but the Occult is very much a real movement that fits in somewhere between religion and science. It’s a term that came about 500 years ago when people began practicing astrology and alchemy, and it became a belief system in natural magic that made land in the earliest days of America.
Santa Rosa artist Cade Burkhammer is a student of the Occult in America, and he’s traced its movements and influences in his artwork. Best known as the creator and artist of the Wise Fool Tarot Card set, Burkhammer now turns his attention to American mysteries in a new solo virtual exhibition, “Occulture.”
The art show features 30 new paintings and drawings inspired by America’s history of Occult practices and the country’s modern day problem with Kleptocracy and environmental peril. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the exhibit will be available to view virtually on YouTube beginning Saturday, July 4.
Originally from Ohio, Burkhammer traveled the country as a young man, living in New York City and Austin, Texas, before moving to San Francisco in 2000. More recently, Burkhammer got married and moved to Santa Rosa. He also artistically moved into the Backstreet Gallery & Studios in Santa Rosa’s South of A (SOFA) Arts District near Juilliard Park.
As an artist, Burkhammer is interested telling stories that incorporate Surrealism and Symbolism in his work.
“I appreciate Narrative art, and I think Surrealism and Symbolism are very narrative and creative, very imaginative,” he says. “And I like the history of them, the way that Symbolism was a response to the industrial revolution and World War One, and they went back to the ancient Greek mythologies for their inspirations. The Surrealists and Dadaists did something similar during World War Two, but they added political and spiritual ideals to it.”
Picking up where those artists left off, Burkhammer is interested in creating a new art movement that addresses technology, wealth and social class disparities and the climate crisis.
“I want to bring back the narrative interaction with the audience,” he says. “Kind of mix the imaginative with the facts of what’s going on right now.”
Before this current “Occulture” project, Burkhammer spent 15 years creating his Wise Fool Tarot Deck, which was released in 2017.
“I had to do about 80 paintings for that,” he says. “I mostly worked on it in my free time, and spent a lot of time researching it as well as raising funds to print it.”
For those who don’t know, tarot cards are much like playing cards, but instead of Kings and Queens, the cards illustrate figures like magicians, emperors, stars, moons and even Death itself. In the Occult world, tarot cards are seen as tools for divination such as predicting the future or answering secret personal questions.
After completing his own Wise Fool Tarot Card deck, Burkhammer also did the illustrations for a new version of a deck created by renowned writer RJ Stewart called the Dreampower Tarot. Currently, Burkhammer is working on a set of oracle cards, which differs from tarot cards in that their meanings are more up to the interpretation of the artist.
“Oracle decks have less dogma to them,” Burkhammer says. “This one is a Nightmare Oracle deck that’s saying that we are kind of living in a nightmare right now. The American dream is nightmarish right now.”
Burkhammer’s “Occulture” exhibit is also a story of America, and his paintings on virtual display this weekend use ancient mythology to relate today’s problems to the mythological influences he has studied.
That mythology includes the Greek and Roman Furies, who ancients believed were goddesses of vengeance that punished men for crimes against nature. Burkhammer turns those ancient Furies into the “Furies of Industry,” depicting elements of Earth, fire, air and water that are being destroyed by modern society.
Burkhammer also depicts modern gods and goddesses such as Columbia, which was the feminized personification of the United States up until the Statue of Liberty and then Uncle Sam replaced her as symbols of American independence. Even today, Columbia can be seen as the logo for Columbia Pictures, and she is still the namesake of the country’s federal capital, the District of Columbia.
In this exhibit, these gods and goddesses are depicted as reminders of the United States’ pre-Christian origins, such as the Freemasons who were among the country’s founding fathers. Burkhammer’s art also delves into environmental issues and tackles the modern-day cult of capitalism.
“As a Pagan, we worship the ground, the Earth as a living being, and I see our natural church being destroyed for unnecessary technology,” he says. “I think that’s another type of Occult that’s negative and dark.”
Artistically, the paintings on display in Burkhammer’s show are a blend of photo-realism and expressionism that he developed over the years.
“To be recognized as an artist, you need something that’s either very traditional and acceptable or something that’s extraordinary and original,” he says. “I didn’t want to do the traditional, so I’ve always gone towards being experimental.”
Burkhammer’s experimental technique includes combining mixtures of latex and enamel paint to further juxtapose the styles of realism and expressionism in the subject mater. His process also finds him adding charcoal, graphite, ink or spray paint to his drawings.
Originally, Burkhammer was hoping to show “Occulture” in person, though with the shelter-in-place restrictions still happening and concerns of Covid-19 still spreading in the community; he is filming the work as it hangs in the hallway of Backstreet Gallery. “Occulture will be available to view as a virtual exhibit beginning Saturday, July 4. Visit Burkhammer’s YouTube page to see the show.