Cholla - an emerging artist

His art proves to be by a… horse of a different color...
Cholla the painting horse's solo show in Venice, the first outside US

Though only twenty-three, his artwork had been described as having the "fire of Pollock". Yet what makes the description intriguing is that the artist was - incredibly - a mustang-quarterhorse mix living in Nevada and painting by holding the brush in his mouth. This fabulous animal artist died in March 2013 after producing amazing "primitive" art, stimulating the interest and curiosity of the public, and the debate about arts and art making.

Cholla's paintings have been featured in art exhibits from San Francisco to New York and, later, overseas. On the occasion of the 2009 Art Biennale, his first personal exhibit abroad was held in Venice Italy: 30 original watercolours by Cholla have been exclusively shown in Venice at the Giudecca 795 Art Gallery. 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. Because of its success and the media interest, the show has in fact been extended 2 more months than first scheduled (from 15 June to 22 November!)

Are you skeptical? Watch this video (part of a recent dvd which will be screened at the gallery)

See Wikipedia for quick reference.

The story of the international debut 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 the painter 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 was an animal. The horse's efforts are not a "stupid pet trick" - scientists and art critics are still studying the case on Giudecca 795 art gallery’s  request, and the renowned Italian ethologist Danilo Mainardi has observed that Cholla -- a gorgeous, very intelligent, and well treated horse -- seemed happy when he "painted" (probably as a way to communicate with his owner? we ask). The astonishing thing about Cholla is that he could decide if and when to paint, could pick the colors by himself, and then paint on a strong easel. Being a huge and semi-wild horse whose movements were 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, also screened in Venice at Giudecca 795, shows this process very clearly. A catalogue was published, with comments by professor Mainardi and…..


Rosalba Giorcelli, artistic director at the Giudecca 795 Art Gallery, said she and her partner Gianluca Belli were both incredibly attracted and very curious after seeing Cholla's work at Arte Laguna. "The more we learned about Cholla, the more we were thrilled."

The main question: is this "art"? "We are too involved to tell," Giorcelli replies with a smile. "His art is 'natural' and instinctive by definition, his strokes are real 'primary signs', he was not imitating any artist, and… we appreciated 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. It's amazing, it's gorgeous, it's a contemporary fairy tale."

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.

The horse's painting career began by accident in 2004, his owner Renee Chambers says.

"His work should be considered as an action, a product that gives life to emotions, controlled neither by the horse nor by the observer," art critic Viviana Siviero says. "The abstract painter Pollock preferred to work on a wall or on a floor instead of at an easel, since he liked hard surfaces better. In a way, Cholla is more impressionist, at least in his habit, since he found his inspiration in the  open air, next to his portable easel!"

Giudecca 795 Art Gallery, exclusive overseas dealer, displays original watercolors by Cholla; high quality “giclee” prints are also available. Most of the works are for sale.

Curators at Giudecca 795 are very skeptical about the works created by elephants, and so is Mainardi, the expert etologist 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 is," they said.

Part of the exhibited works can be seen on Giudecca 795 website.

Winner of the Honour Mention of the Arte Laguna prize Jury in 2008 with "The Big Red Buck" (on this page): "A particular mention is to be given to the decision of the Jury to expose the watercolor painted by the animal, "The Big Red Buck", next to finalist artworks. His work, even if excluded by any Prize, received a special mention of the Jury as a form of provocation, aimed to give a particular attention, not controversial, to the ironic evolution of the myth of art in a epoch of technical reproducibility." International media coverage of his solo exhibit at Giudecca 795 Art Gallery in Venice, Italy, started with Associated Press and CNN news. Check the Media page for international and Italian press coverage

The Big Red Buck, 2004, watercolor The horse started painting in April 2004. The image here on the left, named "The Big Red Buck", is one of his first watercolors (July 2004). These pages will tell you how this all began.
We are also working at some info pages in other languages -- Italian first.
Enquiries by journalists are welcome, and so are sponsors: thank you.

LATEST NEWS - Other original paintings are also available at the gallery, together with their own "work in progress" video!