VENICE.- Though only twenty-three, his artwork has been described as having the "fire of Pollock". Yet what makes the description intriguing is that the artist is Cholla, a mustang-quarterhorse mix who lives in Nevada and paints by holding the brush in his mouth, picking the color by himself. Cholla's paintings have been featured in art exhibits in the States. After the "honorable mention" at an international art prize held in Italy (2008), 30 watercolours by Cholla are exclusively shown in Venice at the Giudecca 795 Art Gallery from 24 April to 15 June 2009, planning other exhibits of Cholla's works around the world.
Internationally, he is already considered one of the four most sought after animal artists; Congo the chimpanzee from the '50s whose paintings are now sold at the same sales as those of Andy Warhol, is slightly ahead.
Are you skeptical? Then watch the video screened at the gallery, part of which is also online on the gallery website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB4lVmL5wkU
The Venice exhibit will miss his protagonist (too risky, and not ethical, to have a semi-wild horse travel the world), but his owner Renee Chamber will introduce the videos showing Cholla while painting.
The story of the international début of "Cholla the painting horse" is quite interesting. His work was exhibited at a juried art competition in Italy called Artelaguna, and there was some consternation among the judges when they realised that Cholla was a horse. They did not expect the participation of a horse but, being that the competition was open to "anyone" without restriction and considering his prestige in the USA, the jury decided to accept his application. His watercolour received a "mention d'honneur" from the president of the Jury.
Perplexity may be the first instinctual feeling of the viewer.Yet Cholla tends to win over the public, who often appreciate his abstract designs without even knowing he is an animal. The horse's efforts are not a "stupid pet trick" - scientists and art critics are studying the case on Giudecca795 art gallerys request, and the renowned Italian etologist Danilo Mainardi has observed that Cholla -- a gorgeous, very intelligent, and well treated horse -- seems happy when he "paints" (probably as a way to communicate with his owner? we ask). The astonishing thing about Cholla is that he can decide if and when to paint, can pick the colors by himself, and then paint on a strong easel. Being a huge and semi-wild horse whose movements are difficult to control, the act of picking the color and painting without "destroying the scene" is already something rare. And, needless to say, he has done this without any training. A video, screened in Venice at Giudecca 795, shows this process very clearly. This catalogue the first one - includes comments by professor Mainardi and art critics Simona Antonucci e Viviana Siviero, and a "historical introduction" by Cholla's owner, who is not at all a painter but a trained classic ballerina: she recalls how Cholla's painting career began, by accident in 2004.
The main question: is this "art"? At the gallery, we are too involved to tell. Cholla is 'natural' and instinctive by definition, his strokes are real 'primary signs', he is not imitating any artist, and
we appreciate this very much. If not art, we like to think it may be a view into the animal's unconsciousness and consciousness - it's a horse trying to communicate with us, and it's something people like.
Cholla's behaviour is considered "of scientific interest" by the ethologist Mainardi, who writes about Cholla in his new book "The Intelligence of Animals" published by Cairo Editore: "I admired Cholla in some videos, running free, and at the easel. He picked up the brush and spontaneously began drawing his signs. His most astonishing behaviour is shown in a sequence when at first he experiences some difficulties in holding the brush with his mouth, then spontaneously begins moving it using his tongue and teeth, until he succeedes reaching the desidered position; only at this point he starts working at his painting. Believe me, this is not a little thing. It seems to show consciousness and intention, because the horse acts without any obligation. It does it because - this is what it seems - he wants to do it. Cholla does not behave like a trained animal, and so also his owner states. Maybe it all started as a playful moment. Cholla, most of all if you compare him to many other badly kept hores, can be considered a happy horse, in his special way. And this, at least for me, is important.".
The mention d'honneur states: "For the provocative nature of his gesture, which can be considered as an interesting and ironic evolution of the myth of abstract and informal art in its theoretical foundations and formal derivations, this award is possible under these circumstances in recognition of a unique art piece in an epoch of technical reproducibility."
Again, is this art? Who knows. People like Cholla's works, and creations crafted by animals are not a novelty. Congo was the first animal-artist to be 'discovered', was observed by Desmond Morris, and impressed Picasso and Dalì.
Curators at Giudecca 795 are very skeptical about the works created by elephants, and so is Mainardi, the expert ethologist whom they consulted. "The so-called elephant artists look trained to repeat gestures with their flexible trunks, and may not be as free as Cholla," they said.
The art exhibit misses its protagonist: Cholla.But transporting from the United States to Venice such a big horse, who is not used to travel, would not have been ethical, and a useless and dangerous stress for Cholla: we totally agreed with his owner (who is actively contributing to animal charities including helping the wild Mustangs in Nevada where they live).
Giudecca 795 Art Gallery, exclusive overseas dealer, displays original watercolors by Cholla; high quality giclée prints are also available.
Some originals have been shown on preview at ArtFair in Open City
(Art-O'), Palazzo dei Congressi, Roma Eur, 3-5 April 2009.