Story and photos by Morgan Hensley
Throughout the 48 paintings that comprise the National Sporting Library & Museum’s retrospective exhibition, “Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light,” there is one common denominator: a distillation of movement into a single, static scene. The subjects of Pater’s art are invigorated by subtle plays of light, teeming with kinetic energy, poised with motion. Each portrait tells a story, and together these stories meld into an overarching narrative, one that began in Wrocław, Poland, in 1953.
“I’ve had a fascination with horses as far back as I can remember,” Pater said. He recalled gazing at Arabian horses as a child, both in the Polish countryside and during trips to the National Museum in Kraków with his grandmother. During these outings, he was exposed to the works of Józef Brandt and Juliusz Kossak, two artists whose works are suffused with a Polish patriotism.
“I come from a different culture, so I have a different eye,” Pater said. “We are designed by the stories we hear and see. I grew up with paintings full of movement, battle scenes of soldiers on horseback. There’s so much to these paintings: gesture, motion, strength, harmony.”
These components, combined with Pater’s deft employment of line, color and texture, are among the signifying features of his artwork.
“It’s everything around the horse — the light! Light is movement.”
Pater developed his craft as a student of interior architecture at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. “I learned about design and how to compose space, enhance movement and use the things we often overlook to make a big difference. Studying architecture was, in many ways, a study of the psychology behind how we interact with space,” he said.
This sensitivity to spatiality is a critical aspect of his paintings. A defect present in the work of many unsuccessful equestrian artists is an over-reliance on anatomical precision, the horse’s conformation. The result is art that is sterile, derivative and emotionless.
What distinguishes Pater’s work is his attention to the space surrounding his subjects. “It’s everything around the horse — the light! Light is movement.”
After graduating summa cum laude in 1981, Pater moved to New York. He frequented the city’s art museums and discovered Manet’s impressionism and George Stubbs’ invigorating paintings of horses. His career in architecture took him to Dallas, where he lived on a farm surrounded by Arabian horses, much like those summers spent in the Polish countryside.
His works from this time are imbued with nostalgia and his signature energy. One of his paintings on display from this time (“Winter Hunt”) depicts a sleigh of hunters and dogs careening through a wintry landscape. Another (“Chasing Summer”) portrays a herd of Arabians galloping through a pasture with a palatial backdrop.
Pater’s breakthrough came in 1984 when his work was featured at the International Horse Fair in Reno, Nevada. His animated, lively paintings of Arabian horses astounded jurors, critics, visitors and fellow artists. All 15 of his paintings sold immediately, and his name began to circulate throughout the world of equestrian art.
In 1988, Andre and his wife, Kasia, moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where they lived in a cottage owned by the president of the Iroquois Hunt Club. This change of scenery is reflected in his art; Pater branched out from his depictions of Arabian horses, a subject he’d mastered, and into Thoroughbred racing, polo and foxhunting, replete with baying hounds and furtive foxes.
By the mid-1990s, Pater had exhibited paintings at the American Academy of Equine Art’s competitions at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, where he was awarded top honors for Best in Show three times in four years. Thirty of his paintings were hung at the Polish Cultural Center as part of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The early 2000s was a period of artistic exploration for Pater. Eager to dabble in a new medium, he transitioned from oil painting to pastels. His primary subject changed as well; using his wife and son as models, Pater created masterful portraits of jockeys.
The pigmentation and radiance of pastels allowed Pater to play with the properties of light. His jockeys’ silks glisten; their faces alighted with a warm glow. After a five-year interlude of pastels, Pater returned to oil painting with aplomb in 2007.
The paintings on display, all of which are on loan from gracious donors nationwide, span 31 years of Andre Pater’s illustrious career. Here are the works of a self-taught master, a careful observer, curious experimenter and lifelong lover of horses.
Pater’s oeuvre is sure to delight those within and outside of the sporting art tradition.
“Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light” runs through Aug. 13. ML