Artist and teacher Adonna Khare shares how she went from nearly abandoning her art to competing in ArtPrize 2012.
(soft piano music) - Life inspires me. Everything about life inspires me. My drawings have always been a reaction to everything I see and hear. I want to create a world you can immerse yourself in and get lost in, and it could bring you in, invite you in, and you just read the stories, and could spend time in there.
And the only way I could think of doing that was to go large. (tranquil orchestral xylophone music) I would describe my work as a type of animal surrealism. I love the human form, anatomy. Fascinated with muscles and skeleton and how everything works together. But for most of my personal work, it has some figurative elements but I use the animals to tell that story, so it's a little bit of a combination of both.
It's kind of a way to combine the human experience with nature. (tranquil orchestral xylophone music) I have been drawing, and this is my mom's story, since I was three. I did a family portrait, and I guess I haven't stopped since. I was very introverted, I was very quiet, and I was always kind of off in la-la land. My favorite thing to do was to just disappear.
We kind of lived in the country in Iowa, and there wasn't a lot of exposure to the arts, but there was these cool drainage ditches. We would disappear in these drainage ditches, and hike, and go out into the forest, and find streams, and climb trees. I felt like possibilities were endless out there. And that's what's kind of grown into my mature artwork. This is my giraffe drawing, and it's actually the precursor to the drawing that's in my studio, the nine-foot-tall giraffe drawing.
Initially, I was watching just a video on YouTube of giraffes eating from the tree. It's acacia tree. Don't quote me on that. But with the spikes and how they're just perfectly designed with that tongue and the way that they can eat to eat these plants. And so, it was a really easy, for me, transition to kind of imagine that combination. And I was interested in talking about intertwining and connection with the giraffes.
The idea of connection started actually very young, and I didn't realize 'til pretty recently; the past maybe five, six, seven years; that I really started to think about why it is I have a compulsion to connect things. And I'm realizing now, it's a way of dealing with loss, and the things that happen in our life that you try to hold onto, and that kind of painful and sometimes emotionally-charged feeling when you have to let go of a connection or when it breaks.
This past summer I got very sick and I was hospitalized for a while. And as I was kind of emerging from the sickness and battling emotionally with what it meant to be sick for so long and the toll it took on my body, I had been watching this show about all the homes in Detroit just deteriorating, and so, right away I could kind of see a comparison. But was a really meaningful piece for me at the time 'cause I was starting to feel like: "I got to clear this up, "or I'm just going to totally fall apart." I've always been drawn to the animal world.
I love animals. I feel at home with them and in nature. Besides the fact of their innocence, they're just inspirational and they're beautiful and they're funny. This is my family just as much as my husband and daughter. They're my life models too. I use them a lot in my drawings. This was actually one of my dogs posed for this. She kind of had like one eye like, waiting for the mailman, but she was like not wanting to dose off. I was like: "That's hilarious." If I drew two humans interacting, they would have an identity, they would have a face, they would have a character.
But when I draw them with a rhinoceros head, all of a sudden I am addressing the human element but I'm also addressing this kind of anonymity. I try to kind of combine all of these things that I love to tell these stories. Art, as I got older in school and high school, I was good at art, but I didn't know if it was a way that I could make a living. I had in my head that you could not be successful as an artist, so I battled a lot with what it is I was going to do after school.
I knew I needed to pay my loans. I knew I wanted a place to live. And I was convinced I'd go into some kind of animal field, either zoology or biology or something to that extent where I would be dealing with the study of life. My parents kind of intervened when I was in college, and said: "Hey, maybe you should really do this art thing. "I think it would be a waste if you didn't pursue it." And so, I kind of switched over into art in college, and I'd still have a large influence from the study of life in biology and all of that in my artwork, so I kind of carried that love over into the art field.
This drawing here is a series of drawings called Hear No Evil, and this is my bunny Bun Bun. And I've done several drawings on the theme of hear no, see no, speak no evil. And with this series I have several unfinished works. So here's an example of an unfinished work. And this one would be speak no evil, if you can see the chimpanzee's mouth is actually stitched all the way up the side. It's a theme I play around a lot with in my smaller works but as well as the larger works.
After grad school, my intention was to teach at the university level, But that was not in the cards for me when I graduated. There was an art-teacher opening at a private school in Chatsworth, so I went in and I got that position. And it was teaching, at the time, first through eighth grade, and then over the next seven to eight years I ended up teaching kindergarten through sixth grade, so kind of in that range. I found that being a teacher was fantastic.
And I think, before I started my family, before I had my daughter, it was a great balance between doing my own art at home and teaching to make a living to supplement. As I got older and I got married and I had my daughter, things started to shift and the balance shifted. I was no longer able to teach and give that everything and draw on my own, so that's when my drawing started to stop.
At the time I was surprised how easy it was for me to say: "No more art. "I'm just going to do it on my own. "I do it all day at school, I draw, whatever, "and then I'm going to be with my daughter, and that's it." And I would say, by year two I started to get, I don't know, I guess, maybe, resentful. I started to feel like I was missing out because I had given up my identity so easily. I didn't understand the consequences of that.
I was speaking with my friend Tara on the phone, and she's like: "Hey, next year in 2012, I'm going to do "this art competition in Michigan, where I'm from. "You should come with me." And I said: "No no no no. "I got a family. "I can't leave. "I got a teaching job that's in September. "Are you kidding me? "I can't go." I put it out of my head, and, think it was maybe only a month later, I was realizing: "I got to make a change. "I'm unhappy. "This isn't working", and I called her back, and I said: "I'm in. "I'm coming to ArtPrize in 2012." (grungy rock guitar music) ArtPrize is an art competition.
It's the largest art competition in the world. It's international, so people from all over the world and all different mediums can apply to get into ArtPrize. (rock music) Whatever artwork you liked. You could just, we all had a code. You just typed in, vote. And you could text it or you could go to a physical voting station, and you could vote for as many pieces of art as you like. (rock music) I was petrified of this time I would leave for ArtPrize, and it was the thing that kept me moving.
And so, for the next 18 months, every weekend, holiday, before and after school, I spent in my garage, working on this piece called The Elephants. And it wasn't until I made that choice to be away from my family for those times that I realized how precious it really was. It signified all the birthday parties, all the little family trips that I had to say no to to make this happen.
And so, I found out, I think, the last week before ArtPrize closed that I was accepted by the Grand Rapids Art Museum. And when I installed it at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the total was 36 feet long by eight feet tall and it was seven different panels. Once I hung my Elephants piece on the wall, I felt immense disappointment, and that's because in my tiny little garage wall I could only see two panels at a time but it filled up the whole space, and then when I saw this 36-foot-long drawing on the wall of this giant museum, I went: "Oh, looks like this little window into the space." The curator at the time, Cindy Buckner, came out, and I said: "Hey, what do you think if I just draw "a little bit onto the walls like to connect the panels?", and she's like: "Um, OK, just a little bit." So before the museum I'd come early and I would draw the drawing onto the walls and kind of into the hallway and then kind of over the air conditioner grate.
So every day that I would go in there I would just add a little bit more. And so, for the next four weeks, I was just kind of sitting there and working, and I had a chance to break that little window open and move the space around so when you walked up to the drawing it was no longer this little rectangle but it was like an environment that you kind of stepped into. And that was just an amazing thing. It occupied my mind, but it also gave me the opportunity to do my first real installation piece.
(emotional piano music) To be an artist, you can never have everybody agree with you; then you wouldn't be an artist, you'd be something else. People get it; and if they don't get it, they appreciate it; and if they don't like it, they don't have to like it. That's fine. I've seen it happen a lot of times, students, that they start to conform to the program of what it is that they have to do in that program, and they start losing those little bits that got them in there in the first place.
They have to keep a little bit of yourself in there. When I found out I was in the top 10, I totally had this moment of like: "Oh my gosh, I could pay the bills!" Because it was a $5,000 if you made it into the top 10. I was like: "Oh my gosh, I could pay my credit card bill "to get over there, and I could kind of make up "for the month of teaching that I took off, "and stuff like that." So I felt really like: "OK." And then it hit me that I'm in the running for the grand prize, at the time was $200,000.
They tally up all the votes, and you go to this awards ceremony to find out if you won, and they put us all in the front row. I was just a nervous wreck. I don't remember anything except a light being shown on me, and I thought it was the guy next to me, so I'm like: "Yay!", (clapping) and he grabbed me, he's like: "Get up there!", and I was like, I couldn't believe I was the winner of ArtPrize 2012, and after that, everything just started to shift.
The personal rewards of being an artist full-time, I mean, the biggest thing is my mental health and happiness. I get to be the mom that I wanted to be. I get to be with my babies whenever I want. I'm here now, and I get to be here. I'm working harder now than I ever did, but it's on my terms. I don't think it's something I'm ever going to give up.
As a matter of fact, I keep hoping I could get bigger spaces so I can make even larger drawings to immerse yourself in, and just get lost in 'em.