Cholla's Art in Venice

Cholla Art: the original watercolors, giclee prints, and videos of the horse while painting have been presented by Cholla's owner Renee Chambers at Giudecca 795.
The solo show "CHOLLA, 30 watercolors" 24 April - 15 September 2009 has had a great impact on the art scene.

Seeking a painter, we found a horse. A horse who could paint.

Disconcerting. Fascinating. Exciting.

A little shocked, and being in Venice, our first thoughts went to Peggy Guggenheim: what would have she said and done? Too bad she can't answer. We guessed she would have been amused to find out how a watercolor entered in competition for an art prize in Italy, motherland of Art, proved to be painted by a horse. A horse with, apparently, either superior IQ or just specially gifted, but still a horse. Surreal. Renee Chambers, who is not a painter but a classic dancer, must be brave indeed to submit an artwork by her horse. We smiled at the thought.

As minutes passed, we were more and more interested in that unusual story. We decided to check the facts first and called ethologist Danilo Mainardi. We became thrilled by the idea of an exhibit, a "personal" exhibit of a horse who can paint. To tell the whole truth, it took some courage also for an art gallery to put its reputation at risk, especially in Venice which is one of capitals of Fine Art. With a poll and a preview at a contemporary art fair in Rome, where we also attracted the interest of the media, we realized that the public could hardly believe that the painter is a horse. But that's it.

Cholla did not paint by stamping his hooves on the canvas. He painted by holding the brush in his teeth, reaching down to get paint from his color jars -- an activity that can be seen in various videos (it is particularly clear in one video available at the gallery and on our website). He painted freely, starting and finishing when he wanted to.

Was he is good at it? It depends on your perspective.

As an animal, he has been a phenomenon. This is even more accurate if you consider that he was the offspring of a mustang, a semi-wild horse that is, definitely, not trained to paint. And most horses would chew the brush to bits in two minutes.

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

Cholla's behaviour is considered "of scientific interest" by the ethologist Mainardi, who writes about Cholla in his new book "The Intelligence of Animals": "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. His story could be very similar to the painting chimp's".

"Cholla's 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 was more impressionist, at least in his habit, since he finds his inspiration in the open air, next to his portable easel!"

Giudecca 795 Art Gallery, exclusive overseas dealer, has displayed 30 original watercolors by Cholla in his first solo show, and more in the following months; high quality “giclee” prints are also available. All 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," they said.

Part of the exhibited works can be seen on this website.

Some originals have been shown on preview at an art fair (called ArtFair in Open City (Art-O'), Palazzo dei Congressi, Roma Eur, 3-5 April 2009), receiving the critics' and public's appreciation.

Cholla's Venetian solo show at Giudecca 795 has been organised in partnership with the Molino Stucky Hilton Venice Hotel, offering special fares on the occasion of the exhibit.

Giudecca795 Art Gallery, Fondamenta S.Biagio 795, 30133 Venezia infotel (+39) 3408798327 website:

How to reach the location: Giudecca 795 is located exactly midway between Hotel Hilton Stucky and Harry's Dolci, a short walk from the vaporetto stop. Take ACTV boat lines 4.1, 4.2, or 2 to "Palanca"; at the Palanca boat stop, turn right and walk the "fondamenta" (that is, walk along the canal). After the Sant'Eufemia bridge, continue to number 795 (Palazzo Foscari, 16th century).

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