Jeff Kahm

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Vernarcular, 2012 Acrylic On Canvas 90" X 90" © Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporay Native Arts
installation detail of Vernacular exhibition , 2012 © Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
Valiant, 2016 Acrylic On Canvas 22 X 20 © Courtesy of the Artist and Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art
Quick Facts
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Lives in
Santa Fe
Works in
Santa Fe


Jeffery Kahmakoatayo, Plains Cree (a.k.a., Jeff Kahm), was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and was raised on the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan by his maternal grandparents. 

Jeff began making art from his childhood.   His talent for representational drawing and painting was evident from the very beginning earning him recognition early on from his community and surrounding area.  After completing high school, he attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (AFA 1992) to study painting and photography.  He continued his studies at the Kansas City Art Institute (BFA 1994) and then attended the University of Alberta (MFA 1997) to continue advanced research in painting.  After graduate school, he returned to his community of Little Pine to serve in secondary education, where he worked with students from elementary to high school level. After several years of serving in this capacity, Jeff returned to New Mexico to pursue his true calling, art. He became a permanent resident in 2003 and soon upon arriving in Santa Fe he began to teach at the Institute of American Indian Arts as a visiting faculty member. In 2009, he was awarded a full-time position at IAIA, where he continues to teach studio art primarily drawing and painting courses. 

As an artist, Jeff continues to work in his Santa Fe studio.  His commitment to experimentation and creativity in the visual arts is evident in his oeuvre. A solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in 2012 will showcase his most recent work. And, an invitation for a solo exhibition at Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2013 is also in the works.


I started exploring abstract work in the early nineties during my undergraduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, where I was introduced to various art movements of Western art history including the tenets of modernism.  Modernist practices, which set aside artistic traditions of the past in favor of experimentation, peeked my interest at the time.  Although the age of modern painting began in the 19th century I was particularly drawn to work produced in the latter half of the 20th century, particularly Color Field painting, Geometric Abstraction and the work of the New York School.  My fascination with modern and contemporary art practices consumed me even through graduate studies at the University of Alberta. Importantly, my interest in Indigenous art history (particularly pre-Modern art) was another component crucial to my research of non-objective art and I soon recognized parallels and similarities between Indigenous art forms and the modern art aesthetic. 

Geometric structures like stripes are the most recognizable of all patterns and have been used throughout the centuries. These structures infinitely repeat and are an effective vehicle for exploring compositional variations.  Examples from all cultures show that these forms played a major role in the geometric styles and development of aesthetics of early history and it is precisely in their use as symbols that geometric configurations persist.  Various Indigenous cultures used abstract and geometric motifs not only for visual aesthetics (as a visual language) but to create meaning – meanings that symbolically represented the physical and social world. Not surprisingly, stripes continue to be one of the most popular vehicles for color used by many contemporary artists.

In essence, my work is a fusion of Indigenous motifs combined with codes of modernist practices.  The construction of my painting, including scale and application of color and texture, is intended to contribute to the overall immediacy and presence of the work.  In terms of metaphor, the hard edge structure serves as a sign for technology and its impact on global cultures and society.  Indigenous peoples around the world have been affected by the introduction of these technologies for many generations; some have changed identities and worldviews, while others have used it to hold on to various aspects of their cultural existence. 

Although I like to think of my work as being non-referential to immediate forms or surroundings, some of my geometric configurations may suggest computer circuitry or urban architecture or aerial landscapes.  In the end, geometric abstraction seems to me the most engaging and viable way to explore the confluence of culture and technology at a metaphorical level and one that resonates universally.


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