Art: Sporting Goods

Although he gained renown for his paintings of ballet dancers, Edgar Degas demonstrated equal skill portraying horse racing scenes. Quite familiar with Degas’ career, Greg Ladd, founder of the Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington, Ky., spends a great deal of time cultivating artists who he believes should apply their considerable skills to creating sporting art.
 
Because Ladd’s gallery is located in Kentucky horse country, he favors images of Thoroughbreds and racing, although he also displays other examples of the sporting art genre, including scenes of hunting and fishing. He carries relevant 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures, but many of his offerings are contemporary pieces created by artists who had painted few Thoroughbreds before meeting Ladd. During much of the gallery’s 30 years of existence, Ladd has invited artists to stay at an apartment near the Lexington gallery so that they can observe horse auctions, races, and farms. “My job is to find good work,” he says in a phone conversation from the Hampshire, England, home of Thomas Coates, one of the dozen or so artists represented by his gallery. “There are few really good painters and sculptors [in the world]. I’ve got to work with them and get them to produce.”
 
Artists may elude Ladd for a time, but they rarely escape. Coates, whose range includes portraits, nudes, and landscapes rendered in charcoal, pastel, watercolor, and oil, resisted Ladd’s entreaties for two years after meeting him at a 1978 exhibit of equestrian paintings in England. “He kept coming over [to England], and I felt so guilty that I didn’t have any equestrian paintings for him,” Coates says. “I do only a few, because I don’t want to be categorized as an equestrian artist.” When he says “a few,” Coates is referring to the 100 or so works that he produces annually for display in Ladd’s gallery. “I have to hold back,” Coates says. “Otherwise, he’d sell them all, and the collection would go down the drainpipe.”

The relationship between Coates and Ladd has warmed considerably in the years since their first encounter. The artist has since visited Lexington more than 50 times, not always as Ladd’s guest but often enough to have become a close friend. “He’s totally loyal to his stable of artists,” says Coates. “With Greg, it’s like being part of a family. He’s a terrific support.”

Ladd typically plans a group show at his gallery for the weeks that precede the Kentucky Derby, but he designs single-artist events as well, and a show of Coates’ work is scheduled for September 2005. The most notable exhibit to date occurred at the Sladmore Gallery in London in 2002. It featured 31 paintings by Andre Pater, a Polish-born equestrian artist who has been affiliated with Cross Gate since 1991. Pater was an established sporting artist before joining the gallery, but Ladd designed the London exhibit to introduce Britons to his work. Ladd refused to sell anything before the show and set a one-painting-per-customer limit. All 31 were gone within a half hour of the show’s opening. “It’s all based on the quality of what you have to sell,” Ladd says. “You have to have quality work.”

Cross Gate Gallery, 859.233.3856, www.crossgategallery.com

Photo by Oli Tennent
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