David McGuire said it’s been a rough few months for Craft — his art gallery in downtown Louisville.
“Of course, Kentucky — the winters are brutal,” McGuire said. “Especially in the gallery and the retail world. After Christmas, it’s pretty quiet,” McGuire said. “And we’ve suffered especially down on the corner of 4th and Chestnut with construction.”
But earlier this month, McGuire hung a show he believes will bring the gallery back into the black. It’s called “Horsepower,” and it features the art of four well-known Kentucky equestrian artists: Jeaneen Barnhart, Jaime Corum, Tyler Robertson and Richard Sullivan.
McGuire said that’s exactly the kind of artwork people want to buy in Louisville during the month leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
“We always count on kind of that push for April 1st leading into the season,” McGuire said. “You know, I always say Derby is the second Christmas around here.”
According to the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Derby has an economic impact of more than $400 million locally. For McGuire and other area gallery owners, showing horse-themed paintings and sculpture is a way to tap into some of that tourism-driven money flowing into the city.
“Just this week, 80 to 90 percent of traffic has been tourists,” McGuire said.
And that, in turn, is good for the artists on view. It’s a relatively predictable annual source of income in an industry that isn’t exactly known for financial stability.
But, as you’d expect, the emphasis on the same subject matter year after year can inspire a kind of love/hate relationship for some artists.
Richard Sullivan is a Louisville-based artist who works primarily in watercolor. He has several pieces in the “Horsepower” show.
“I think from January until May 5th probably, I think about the horses,” Sullivan said. “And then I can close the door and not think about them until the next year.”
Sullivan has participated in Derby-themed shows for the past several years; it’s a good financial opportunity.
“There’s a lot of extra bodies in Louisville,” Sullivan said. “Last year I had a show at the Brown Hotel and the paintings that did sell were from out-of-towners.”
Sullivan said he tries to view that equine artwork as an extension of the pieces he paints throughout the rest of the year. He was a professional baseball player until he was about 26 years old, so much of his art is baseball-themed, and focuses on depicting athleticism.
“I think of horses as athletes,” Sullivan said. “There’s a connection I have with them as athletes.”
To break through any monotony, Sullivan said he tries to take what he learns throughout the year — like new techniques from residencies and workshops — and apply it to his horse artwork.
“And I learn something from it every year, too. It challenges me,” Sullivan said. “But I don’t want to be doing it all year long.”
Which, in the end, works out just fine for gallery owners like David McGuire at Craft. He gets artists, like Sullivan, who put everything they can into the annual equine show.
“I don’t think we could have picked four better artists who work so well together,” McGuire said.
And combined, McGuire hopes “Horsepower” is his sure bet for breaking out of the winter sales slump. The show will run through the end of May.