Adonna Khare: Exploring Between the Lines at Lora Schlesinger
By Genie Davis
Closing this Saturday, Adonna Khare’s solo exhibition at Lora Schlesinger gallery is her 5th in this space. This show presents a strong, nuanced body of work well worth taking in this weekend.
The Southern California-based artist creates rich, textural carbon pencil drawings that are both large scale in size and precisely detailed. The show, titled “Between the Lines” an absolutely riveting, illustrative, artistic story that is sweeping not just because of size but because of a kind of deeply rooted magic in both her images and the warning they impart. Between the carefully drawn lines here is a meaning that is surreal and dangerous, wondrous and frightening.
She depicts varied members of the animal kingdom that are doppelgangers if you will for human relationships and human situations. The artist creates her drawings spontaneously, and has described them as “evolving around my experiences with people and the absurdities of life.”
Khare’s epic stories are rich and meaningful, the visual equivalent of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; sharing certain thematic elements with Edward Hicks’ “The Peaceable Kingdom.”
Many of the animals are true to life and so perfectly detailed that they could be breathing. Others are fantastical creatures; hybrids and mythical. Adding to the myth-making are the props of human lives, such as the garments waving from a clothesline in “Elephant Clothesline.” Forced to hold man’s clothesline aloft – man’s lifeline, perhaps – the elephants are constrained, their greatness diminished by this pedestrian human implement. The piece reflects an uncertain world, one in which the elephants live, and their human counterparts impact the environment. Sweet bunnies cower and take comfort in the elephants as smaller clothes lines bind their ears. Flying squirrels dive into the unknown. Beyond the subject matter, what fascinates are the fine lines on the elephants’ skin, the rough wood of the clothes pins they hold and the gleam in an elephant’s eye. Her creatures are so tangible and present; a viewer would be unsurprised to see them walk off the wall.
In the same piece, the inky background portends danger. The artist created it using charcoal pencil in several cross- hatch layers. For the body of her work Khare says she uses carbon pencils to get the dark and depth of charcoal with the line quality of graphite – without the shine.
Her “Chimps with Skulls” drawings employ careful line quality to great effect. Human skulls balance on the heads of chimps, and above them two birds flutter; two others rest on the chimps’ fingers. The expressions on the chimps’ faces are astonishing; one with downcast eyes, beatific, one with a thoughtful, possibly angry expression, and the third gazing upward, perhaps taking in the ruin that man has wrought upon himself. Such sad beauty in the comprehension of the chimps and the contrasting questioning in both the flying and perched birds makes for a work both poignant and passionate.
This image is the centerpiece in a mural-size triptych which Khare has extended onto the wall of the gallery. Chunks of ice broken around and beneath the chimps give a heartbreaking warning of the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica. The single “Chimp with Skull” that is a part of this trio of drawings has a reflective looking chimp with a skull balanced on his head, the teeth of the skull digging into his pate. Two pigeons or love birds nuzzle to the side of the piece. Khare’s birds often appear to be representatives of love, of an alternative possibility to the main focus of the drawing.
There is little alternative present in “Gorilla with Bird,” a piece which tethers a bird to the nostrils of a gorilla, whose skull is fused with a honeycomb buzzing with bees. The interconnectedness of humans, animals, birds, bees, of nature and man, is so simply and perfectly depicted. It’s hard to tear one’s eyes from the individual elements – the perfect shell of the gorilla’s ear, his furrowed brow, his resigned gaze, the soft and almost strokeable fur of his chin.
More harrowing is the unmistakable mess we are in depicted in “Chatterbox Chimpsky.” The angry looking chimp is having his mouth sewn shut by walruses as seemingly content and loving giraffes, their necks entwined, their expressions relaxed, look on. Above, a bear is perched on the chimp’s head, also watching. Is this talkative chimp representative of a certain political figure or landscape whose need to be silenced is approved? Is he emblematic of how much man talks rather than listens, of the troubles that can only be stopped by muzzling ourselves?
In “The Watch,” Khare creates an image of owls with aspens springing from their heads, the expressions of the birds astonishingly beautiful, quintessentially watchful, are both sad and glorious. So much of Khare’s work is infused with beauty and sorrow; a statement of life, its fragility, it’s magnificence, its creatures who embody us and who we ourselves embody.
Whether we are studying giraffes streaming a poisonous-appearing smoke or a wise and wondering “Chimp with Funnel,” the complexity of the works Khare has shaped belies the simplicity of her approach. The artist says “The drawings are not pre-planned, rather they evolve through my experiences with people and the absurdities of life. The result is a group of drawings where the animals coexist in a world beyond ours, and are inexplicably tied together, often not by choice.”
The ties that bind in Khare’s world are heartbreaking – both in their beauty and their message, images long to be remembered and dreamed, images that tie all who see them together in transcendence and terror.