Highlights of 2020 Sporting Art Auction Evoke Feelings of Comfort, Warmth

Pop Culture
“The Walking Ring at Belmont,” by George Claxton, is one of many gems in the eighth annual Sporting Art Auction, a collaboration between Keeneland and Crossgate Gallery, on Sunday, Nov. 22.

Comfort. It seems so important during a worldwide pandemic. Lifestyles have been changed. Outlooks can vary day by day. In a world that has gone upside down, we cope, comfort, and create. I found it fascinating to study my outlook when I received the Sporting Art Auction Catalog from Crossgate Gallery for their annual auction on Nov. 22. Would my tastes in art be influenced by the worldwide pandemic?

In a word. Yes. I sought comfort. My mind was drawn immediately to art that I found conveying warmth and well-being. I asked Max Barton who is the executive director and CEO of the Canton Museum of Art about the importance of art right now. He responded, “Art and the arts, in particular the visual arts, are today even more of a transformative and inspiring part of our lives. In art, whether in a museum or online or at our community galleries or gardens or storefronts, stirs and inspires our creativity and our humanity. It is what strengthens and sustains each of us, and our communities. Art offers a window to ever-changing realms, and it offers healing — art changes lives!”

“Front Runners,” by LeRoy Neiman

This year the Sporting Art Auction offers 188 lots. I love taking time to wander through the catalog as I search for my favorites. The selections are strong and varied this year. One of the highlights is Andrew Wyeth’s “Over the Hill,” which is a stark muddy landscape featuring a glimpse of a horse known as “Grey Ghost” retreating over the hill. 

There are five LeRoy Neiman paintings including his powerful painting “Front Runners.” It was painted for the Kentucky Derby Museum’s 30-year retrospective, Racing: 1962-1994. Louisville’s Courier-Journal described the painting as “full of effect, with high-key color, and a sense of motion. One of the famous Twin Spires of Churchill Downs peeks from behind three Thoroughbreds and jockeys charging toward the finish.” I was drawn to the various hues of blue behind the russet tones of the Thoroughbreds. With skillful pops of yellow, Neiman conveys both the motion and emotion of the final stretch.

I also wanted art to transport me as I am basically landlocked in my home during the pandemic. I found that I gravitated towards paintings of familiar places. George Claxton’s “The Walking Ring at Belmont Park” evokes many happy memories. I love the Japanese White Pine that towers over the paddock and walking ring. The tree beckons one to sit on an empty park bench and enjoy the simple pleasures of watching the horses. There is the luxurious comfort of the various shades of green swirls. Slowly the details emerge. A horse with its ears pinned. A horse rearing in the background. The famous Secretariat statue. It is a beautiful painting for those of us who were unable to attend the Belmont Stakes this year.

Diana Tremaine’s “Bath” is a unique perspective. Her painting is not cluttered with a background or people and you find focus in the water’s reflection. Tremaine said, “My favorite time of day at Keeneland is post morning workout bath time. Pre-workout tension has subsided. Muscles relax, minds soften, steam rises off their magnificent bodies. Performance is replaced by intimacy between horse and handlers ... pure magic.” These moments are the inspiration for “Bath.” Here is a short video from 2019 in which Tremaine discusses her painting style in front of an initial sketch of her painting “Bath.” 

One of the highlights of every Breeders’ Cup occurs in the early morning hours when the European horses come out onto the track wearing their traditional multicolored, striped blankets. Peter Smith captures a similar moment at the ocean with his “Sunrise Outriders.” The horses are illuminated with a diffused light from the sunrise as they walk along the beach. It really takes little imagination to hear the horses walking on the sand with their tails swishing while the riders chatter in the background.

“Le Printemps,” by Jaime Corum

Jaime Corum has two paintings in this year’s auction. She is a popular equine artist well known for her expressive and detailed portraits of horse racing greats, including Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and American Pharoah. “Growing up as a young equine artist in Kentucky, I considered Crossgate Gallery and the Keeneland Sporting Art Auction to be the absolute pinnacle of my chosen field. Even now, when I walk through the Sporting Art Show in the Keeneland sales pavilion I am in a state of reverence and awe, in the presence of giants. To be included in the show now for the past three years has been one of the proudest moments of my professional life. I am so lucky to be surrounded by the very best in Sporting Art and Thoroughbred Racing in my home state of Kentucky.” Her painting “Le Printemps” is a lovely quiet horse with a soft eye whose neck is covered with a magnificent floral blanket. The stillness of the moment draws you into a world of subdued greens and yellow with simple flourishes of a soft lavender. 

I love to read the artists’ biographies in the back of the catalog. This sentence about Stephanie Revannaugh leapt off the page. “Revannaugh studied painting for three years in Colorado, Arizona, and Aix-en-Provence, France; however, she knew she needed to sculpt as soon as her hands first dug into clay.” Her bronze piece “Presence” was the winner for Best in Show at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. She described the piece on her Facebook page. “This piece is a reminder to be present with the one in front of you. To be aware, to see with gentleness. How appropriate in this time that we are made to be still and separate. To simply BE. The ubiquitous ‘I’m so busy’ has fallen away. This forced distance illuminates our need for connection and offers opportunity to connect on a deeper, more authentic level. It simultaneously destroys the illusion of separation. It is now clear how intimately connected we are globally.”

Artist Ellen Skidmore’s whimsical, colorful paintings are unique. She is an advocate of several organizations supporting retired Thoroughbreds. “Horses have always been a large part of my life. As one who stutters, I have found the nonverbal communication with them incredibly freeing. They have mystical, ancient-feeling souls and far-away eyes. They have taught me so much about the unspoken ways of being and I owe them a great deal. Elements of nature are also a common thread, flowers, trees, streams, etc. To me the tiniest things in nature are comforting in this big, ever-changing world. The figures are portrayed in the stick-like forms because I feel we are fragile, almost ephemeral. I seek harmony and depth in the color and formal space of the canvas – a feeling of both darkness and lightness.”   

“Santa Anita,” by Ellen Skidmore

The Sporting Life Auction always reflects a love of life that extends to pets, farm life, gaming, and sailing.  Juli Kirk’s painting “Secrets” depicts an intimate moment between two dogs. Soft autumnal colors complement the cinnamon and cream tones of the dogs as one of them peers at you with soft brown eyes. I have been a repeat visitor to look at Philip Eustace Stretton’s “A Study of a Ginger Cat.” What a fine companion that cat must have been! In other years, I might be drawn to art that challenges me.  This year?  It is obvious that I am seeking warmth, enjoyment, happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction from the realms of a pandemic confinement. There are many fabulous selections in this years Sporting Life Auction that fulfill that need. The horses, the dogs, and that ginger kitty? Perfection!

Background info: “In 2020, Keeneland and Crossgate Gallery again will team up to conduct the eighth annual Sporting Art Auction on Sunday, November 22nd at 12 p.m. ET.  This year’s auction will feature 188 high-quality lots representing fine sporting art, American paintings and sculpture from renowned artists.”  

One can see and explore this year’s offerings in the Crossgate Gallery Sporting Life Auction Catalog.

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