It's elephants and primates, birds of all kinds, plants and buildings growing from unexpected places. It's a representation of familial lines and the joy and pain of living. And it's all in pencil.
According to those who voted during ArtPrize 2012, and especially from the artist's perspective, this is what art is all about. After two months of bunking on couches and continuously working on her ArtPrize entry, Adonna Khare of California got the kind of news that only comes once in a lifetime–she'd won the grand prize. Shocked and grateful for the overwhelming support she received from her now home away from home, Adonna took her cash home and bought…a mattress.
"The old one was absolutely the worst. It has that pit in the center where if you get close, you get stuck in it. We bought the new one last weekend and it'll take two weeks to get there. That was my only big purchase," Adonna says.
Back home in California, Adonna is not only an artist but also a wife, mother and elementary school art teacher. Her three year old daughter was her inspiration for this year's entry which she titled "Elephants." Adonna has a long history drawing animals, but when she became a mother, she began to relate to elephants and their tendencies toward family.
"The idea came to be because of my daughter. It's that idea of the connection elephants have with each other and their history. I got really involved in reading about elephants and I decided the elephants theme would carry me through the whole drawing."
The other characters in the drawing play their own important roles. Even if the primates did "sneak into the picture" at a point during the creation of the piece, Adonna says there is meaning behind every line she made, and the message that comes through the art is hopefully relatable.
"From my experience, some of the stories are universal–the feelings of connection, the loss. I think, I hope, people can draw their own correlations to the story. Everybody interprets it differently, that's how it should be, there's no wrong way. The stories are mine, but I'm hoping everybody else has a connection with it," she says.
Adonna had in mind the ups and downs of her life, the loss and sickness of family members and the bond between them that endures all things, when she created her piece.
"The way this piece was done was kind of a reaction to life and all of the things that happen. Considering it took year and half to complete, there was no shortage of events to pull from. It's my way coming to terms with those events. Not all of them have been easy to overcome, but it's my way coming to terms with them through drawing."
Adonna's mother will say she began drawing at the ripe age of three years old, but she honed her skill of drawing and blending ten years ago. In college, her professors asked students to purchase blending tools that were a little out of a broke college girl's price range. She switched the tools for an old gym sock and never went back. The sock is saturated now from use, so filthy that Adonna says she could draw with it, but she's "so familiar with it now that it's a way better tool than what you could buy," she says.
Education is another priceless tool that Adonna is giving her kindergarten through sixth grade art students. She sees the children as blank canvasses on which she can impart a love and understanding of art before the world sets in.
"It's a way to get in there before everybody else does and form healthy, exciting opinions about art and what's possible about art," she says.
Adonna is letting her own daughter explore with art. Although she isn't much for drawing, the creativity gene didn't fall far from the tree. Adonna says her daughter loves to build and create.
Whether she is watching art form by the hands of children, creating it herself–with the help of her lucky sock, or dreaming up her next grand idea–thanks to a new and more sleep-conducive mattress, Adonna is creativity come to life, and she'll be back next year, but in a new context.
"I want to come back next year and see ArtPrize differently. I won't be competing, but I just want to see it from a different perspective. I'd like to see a little bit more of Michigan next time."
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Erika was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. She enjoys yoga, gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photos: Courtesy of Adonna Khare