Book Review: Bendik Kaltenborn – Adult Contemporary

Art & Culture

Bendick Kaltenborn’s blocky, vaguely monstrous caricatures may be familiar to any fans of the nu disco scene; he’s been providing artwork for fellow Norwegian Todd Terje’s releases since 2012. Terje is a huge fan, so much so that he’s blessed Adult Contemporary- a collection of Kaltenborn’s recent comics and  paintings- with a ringing back cover endorsement, describing ‘getting’ Kaltenborn’s work as being like ‘part of a secret invite-only club’.

Even a cursory flick through Adult Contemporary and you’ll understand where Todd’s coming from. Kaltenborn delights in pushing his bulbous nosed characters through vignettes that are in turns baffling, vulgar and unpleasant – and more often than not all three at once. Much like the real world, his strips are populated by miserable losers, garrulous arsehole business men, gruesome sex, and half drawn idiots launching into inexplicable bursts of anger. Nothing ever really happens. In most of the strips any idea of sequential art actually running in cohesive sequence is paid the barest of lip services. On one hand, nothing makes sense. On the other, it’s very funny.  

The middle section of the book sees a high point; BUM, a strip Kaltenborn created as a satire of the banality of newspaper comic strips. BUM comes in 3 panel installements, each one a clunker of meaningless drivel, appallingly weak jokes and shit artwork. After creating BUM for exhibition, Kaltenborn ended up being asked to serialising a strip in Dagbladet, one of Norway’s biggest newspapers. He sent them BUM thinking they’d refuse, but the editorial staff loved it.  Few of the  Dagbladet audience felt the same, and were bemused (and in some cases enraged) by BUM’s sheer pointlessness – in a stoke of comic genius, Kaltenborn has published the comments his strips picked up on the Dagbladet website underneath each strip. Reading angry readers calling Kaltenborn’s work ‘crap’ and noting that ‘I get more joy from staring at a blank piece of paper’ is a golden chance to watch the unfurling of a near-perfect trolling.

As an edition, Adult Contemporary is a well presented piece – there are a couple of pages of notes on each pieces creation from Kaltenborn, and the printing itself is lovely, with the art looking bold as it should on thick paper with vibrant colours. Kaltenborn’s artwork as a whole is beautiful, ranging from the faux simplicity of his comic strips to the beautifully realised paintings splashed over double pages that are interspersed throughout the book. These lurid studies of awkwardness and displeasure would make incredible posters, that is, if you fancied having a poster of a man with his cock hanging out doing press-ups over an open clawed crab.

Whether the excellent presentation will encourage more people to join Terje in the ‘secret club’ of Kaltenborn fans is another matter – but if you’re looking for a Christmas present for a sly art weirdo with a finely tuned sense of the absurd, this seems a superb place to begin.    

Adult Contemporary is out now published by Drawn & Quarterly – find them online here