Portfolio Review: The Surreal Animal Drawings of ArtPrize 2012 Winner Adonna Khare

On Friday the Burbank, California, artist Adonna Khare was crowned the winner of Grand Rapids’s crowd-determined ArtPrize, winning the annual art competition — whose first place cash prize is a cool $200,000 — with her massive drawing installation “Elephants” (2012, above). Khare, who shows with Santa Monica’s Lora Schlesinger Gallery, specializes in finely detailed pencil drawings (occasionally incorporating watercolors) on paper depicting more or less overtly anthropomorphized animals cavorting in joyous camaraderie.

Other large-scale black-and-white works by Khare include “Lioness” and “Lion” (above), an unofficial diptych of a lion couple sharing a pot of tea while seated amongst a piled-high cast of their animal friends.

Neither overly sentimental nor purely fantastical, her largest and most complex works — like “Alligator” (above) — suggest a pre-lapsarian fantasy in which all animals bask in lush, practically Gothic landscapes, disregarding normative roles as hunters, herbivores, males, and females. Her largest works portray paradisaical, post-human, post-prey wildlife — their exaggerated eyes occasionally hinting at some inexplicable melancholy — at play in conspicuously sexless but nonetheless orgiastic frenzies of activity amidst unpolluted landscapes.

Khare’s smaller works tend to focus on one or two animals in a quasi-classical portrait style, allowing viewers to better appreciate the strange hybridity of many of her characters. In “Walking Bird” (2011, above), for instance, a mouse or other small rodent adorned with a rhinoceros horn and holding a tiny balloon rides on the back of a small bird with vampiric fangs and gazelle-like legs.

Her watercolor works — like “Frog and Ball” (above) and the possible Jeff Koons allusion “Elephant and Balloon Animal” (below) —also feature these hybrid animals either solo or in pairs, often also incorporating playful props. These smaller pieces have a distinctly more ambiguous and slightly grotesque edge that runs counter to the environmentalist utopianism of Khare’s larger works, like the ArtPrize-winning “Elephants.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Images courtesy the artist, Lora Schlesinger Gallery.)