Andre Pater celebrates 22 years 'in heaven'

Polish-born Andre Pater moved from Dallas to Central Kentucky 22 years ago. He said his exhibit at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky is the first retrospective of his work.
Polish-born Andre Pater moved from Dallas to Central Kentucky 22 years ago. He said his exhibit at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky is the first retrospective of his work.

Andre Pater had had enough of the hellish Texas heat.

"August, September, you would run from your car to whatever space you were going into," he says of the years he and his wife lived in Dallas.

On a visit to Kentucky, the artist was on his way to Lexington for a lunch meeting, and he made a wrong turn toward Paris.

"It was fall, a Saturday," he says. "It was a beautiful sunny day. People were riding. There was one farm after another. It was like you were in heaven."

Well, if you can make a move to heaven from, um, some other place, why not? As an accomplished and busy artist, Pater had one of those jobs that allowed him to live wherever he wanted.

So 22 years later, Pater joyously declares, "I am a Lexingtonian," in his distinctly Polish accent.

The Bluegrass has given Pater not just a home but a rich reserve of material. Central Kentuckians can see what Pater's adopted home has inspired in The Bluegrass Palette of Andre Pater, on exhibit at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky through the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

"It is a tribute to this place where I create and paint, and also as a place where I choose to live," says Pater, 57, before giving a tour of the exhibit. "What you see here is 22 years of what I have lived with and become part of.

"What we have is a community effort because of all those clients that lent their paintings to this show."

The catalog is full of credits to private collectors, such as William S. and Sarah Farish.

Putting together a retrospective of Pater is no small feat. One of the world's premier sporting artists, his work is enthusiastically collected, rarely staying on the market for long. So UK's exhibit, the first public exhibition of Pater's work since a 2002 show in London, is a rare chance to see a thorough collection of his paintings. Pater says it is the first retrospective of his work.

From her office at the back of the museum's upstairs gallery, the curator of collections and exhibitions, Janie M. Welker, has been able to eavesdrop on people's reactions to the exhibit, which has been open since June.

"People are here for hours talking about the work," she says. "Sometimes I see people coming back for a second time and looking at work and discussing it. There's a real visceral quality to his work. His paintings are amazing, but I think his pastels are really beautiful also."

For a solo exhibition, Bluegrass Palette is diverse in style and subject matter.

It is meant to be a complement to the museum's other major show, Hoofbeats and Heartbeats: The Horse in American Art, and there are equine pieces including Thoroughbred portraits from Secretariat to Rachel Alexandra, but there is a lot more to Pater's subject matter.

After moving to Lexington, Pater did not immediately turn to painting horses.

"Through dogs and through cows, I got in to horse clients," Pater says. "You know how it is. They already have a lot of horse paintings. But through cows, I gain not only fame but tradition.

"It's slightly different now, but even a few decades ago, cows were a main source of support for horse farms, so owners grew up with cows, and the cow is a very appealing animal. The cow is a beautiful animal to paint."

So the exhibit includes Cattle in a Shaded Pool, Summer, a 2002 oil from the Farish collection, and images of hunting dogs and polo matches.

"When we first thought about it, we thought about the racehorses, of course," Welker says. "But when we sat down to look at his work and do the show, we really wanted to make this a retrospective."

Whether he is painting cows, horses or other animals, Welker says, Pater's attention to the detail of the animal is a big part of the appeal.

"When you talk to a bloodstock manager who owns one of Andre Pater's works, and he tells me about the conformation and explains to me what he looks for in the conformation of a horse, and his musculature and stature, it was fascinating," Welker says.

Pater points to several images of subtle motion, including a scene from the Keeneland paddock that is essentially a light study, to show how slight muscular tensions make a still scene deceptively full of movement.

Attention to detail and the story Pater is telling drive his approach with each image.

The Bluegrass Palette is not just diverse in its subject matter; it is diverse in style, both in medium and approach.

For instance, a quartet of paintings that Pater made portraying the disciplines of the World Equestrian Games show frozen action with bold, dark colors, seemingly set on grids. They stand in contrast to many more realistic oil images upstairs, or pastels that isolate their subjects in softer colors.

"There are certain movements that I can express better in the line than with full color, because it distracts," Pater says. "And with your imagination, it will get you in the right spot."

The show is a celebration of 22 years in the right spot for Pater.

"To have them all together, it is a shock, and it is a wonderful experience for me," Pater says. "As educational as it can be for the public, I learned something about myself too, and that is you have to keep yourself young. You cannot allow yourself to do things by routine.

"As skillful as I am now, I still see a great opportunity for adventures with paintings."