One man’s wonderland, anothers man’s eye candy: Mental universe turns into a collection of art

by Anna Warner

The 36th annual Carolina Film Festival debuted at UNCG on Feb. 26. The event featured films with names such as “God and Vodka” and “Hobos in Love.” Despite the odd titles, these films are relevant to audiences seeking a deeper film experience. One stuck out above the rest: “Rocaterrania”, a documentary by Bret Ingram that speaks to people looking for the nearest exit from the day to day struggle of the 21st century.

The documentary features Renaldo Kuhler, a scientific illustrator and visual artist. He may sound like a guy from a privileged childhood with parents who showered him with praise. One finds out after about 30 minutes of the film that the brilliance of imagination is often times derived from the cruelty of the world outside. Kuhler suffered from emotional instability due to the lack of affection from his parents and the bullying and teasing he received through adolescence. So one might wonder where the mind takes him when the viciousness of reality sinks into the valves of his heart. Kuhler had a mental location that was off the map … literally. He developed his own nation: Rocaterrania. This was never meant to become a best selling novel, this was his safe haven. Every hardship sparked beauty that he sketched into his nation. After Kuhler’s parents would break his spirits, or after enduring his classmate’s perpetual taunting, he would add another layer to his extensive wonderland.

Kuhler developed a language for Rocaterrania complied from existing languages such as German, Yiddish, Spanish and English. He sketched the alphabet on a piece of paper to serve as his go-to style guide. The women of Rocaterrania were sketched as busty and strong. Kuhler sculpted a history for Rocaterrania filled with saviors, revolutionists, the poor and the wealthy. When he didn’t have any friends, he sketched friends. When he got rejected from girls in college … well, he sketched one of those too.

This dream world overtook his obsession, but at the same time his creativity skyrocketed. People either considered him deranged or a genius. He acquired a job as a scientific illustrator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences where he found an outlet for his imagination. Kuhler died last June at the age 81 and was never able to see Ingram’s finished product. Even though the night the documentary showed was Ingram’s birthday, he sat down to answer questions from the audience about his dear friend and colleague.

Many professionals today believe that Kuhler might have had autism, however during the time of his youth he did not care to know. Through Kuhler’s art of an imaginary nation, his lived brilliance is an inspiration to anyone desperate enough to look at the inward beauty instead of the outward darkness. Although Kuhler’s mental state departed from reality on an extreme level, his fiery and bullet proof will power accentuated his individualism. “I have always been drawn to creation. It’s a physical artifact of his psyche,” said Ingram. “He was never diagnosed, he just found his way.”

To what extent Kuhler’s creation was based on catharsis or mental illness, one cannot say.

And maybe that inquiry is irrelevant. To outsiders, the art of Rocaterrania is technically and visually stunning. For Kuhler, Rocaterrania was survival.