Richard Kamler, who died last year, was an activist and artist who used his skills to protest capital punishment in an unusual and highly effective way. For example, he recorded lions at the San Francisco Zoo, and in April 1992, on the night Robert Alton Harris was executed, Kamler took a boat out on San Francisco Bay near San Quentin Prison. As Sam Whiting in the San Francisco Chronicle reported in Kamler’s obituary in November:
“Around midnight, when the execution was scheduled to happen, “The Sound of Lions Roaring” was cranked up loud enough to be heard inside the prison. It continued until the Coast Guard came to arrest him on charges of noise pollution. It was intended as “a mixture of the roar of life and the roar of protest,” said Stephen Vincent, a poet and artist who had known Mr. Kamler since the mid-’70s.”
Whiting reported that Kamler’s interest in incarceration and capital punishment led to a three-year stint as artist in residence at San Quentin in 1981.
“During this time he taped interviews with both inmates and their families, as well as with the families of victims of violent crimes.
“This became the audio portion of his best-known piece, “Table of Voices,” (1996-2013). He set up a replica of a prison visiting room, with phones on either side of a divider. Visitors on one side of the partition could pick up the phones and hear the real stories of the victims, as told by family members. On the other side they could hear the stories of the convicted, often expressing remorse.”
An exhibition of Kamler’s work, “Roar. Works on Paper,” will be held at the Far Out Gallery in San Francisco’s Sunset District from Thursday, April 19, through Sunday, April 22, 12-6 p.m. Concurrent with this show, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco will feature Kamler’s immense graphite drawing Holocaust (1976) in its group show, “Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists,” through July 29.