What I buy and why: Ed Cross on collecting African artists before the market boom and the £20,000 work by Jadé Fadojutimi he passed up

Ed Cross has championed the work of African artists and the African Diaspora since he founded his eponymous gallery 13 years ago. A former artist himself, he has also been a long-time collector, although he started out on a considerably smaller budget than today.

In May, Cross opened the gallery’s first permanent space at 19 Garrett Street in London. The gallery owner has just launched the inaugural summer exhibition at the new digs, which features the work of seven artists, including Pabi Daniel, Leah Gordon and Abe Odedina.

We caught up with the gallerist, collector and artist about his adventures buying and selling African art before he became a force in the market, how he stores his own works on the impractical scale and why he missed the opportunity to enter early with Jadé Fadojutimi.

Jak Katarikawe, Untitled (circa 2000). Courtesy of Ed Cross.

What was your first purchase?

My first purchase was a woodblock print by Ugandan master Jak Katarikawe. I came across one of his exhibitions in a hotel in Nairobi around 1989 and fell in love with his work, whose expressive brushstrokes and lush vegetation reminded me in part of the work of Australian artist Arthur Boyd whom Id admired as a child while living in Melbourne. I found Jak in a seedy hotel called the Pigalle, living in a room stuffed with his own work, and bought a print, which I gave to my sister for her wedding present. I then bought two of his canvases in the following years.

Jak, who was uneducated in the Western sense and could only write his name, was a former traditional dancer turned painter – his paintings were full of Ankole cows, which hold sacred status in his community. I was delighted when Michael Armitage paid tribute to Jak and other East African masters who influenced and inspired him during his recent show at the Royal Academy.

What was your last purchase?

As an art dealer, a lot of gems pass through your hands and it’s really tragic when you don’tt acquire at least some of said gems. For a long time I rolled a ball over a hill with contemporary African art – the prices were low and my income for a man with family commitments was modest, so collecting my own artists only became a serious thing these last years.

Earlier this year I engaged a truly brilliant artist from Accra, Pabi Daniel, an exceptional painter of just 22 years old, whose work is intense and surreal to reflect the times we live in – an old head on young shoulders, you might say. One of the first things I did was to buy two of his paintings for me and my wife, Chinwe. One of them is pictured here.

Daniel Pabi, Untitled (2021).  Courtesy of Ed Cross.

Pabi Daniel, Untitled (2021). Courtesy of Ed Cross.

What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?

Last year, I came across the work of Miranda Forrester after a denunciation by my friend, the Israeli collector Serge Tiroche. Miranda is now represented by Tiwani Contemporary and I acquired one of her works from them. I’m interested in seeing his next show and, if the stars align, buying another piece. Looking close to home as usual, I think it’s high time I bought some works by Wole Lagunju, who we’ll be showing in September, and the terribly talented and underrated British/Jamaican artist Eugene Palmer , which we show in November.

What is the most expensive work of art you own?

One of the highlights of the past year was the launch of the career of the incredible painter Sahara Longe. I bought one of his best earlier works, Sally and Amadu, and the value of that is really anyoneguess. A tiny work by her sold at a Whitechapel Gallery charity auction for around £60,000.

Sahara Longe, Sally and Amadu (2020).  Courtesy of Ed Cross.

Sahara Longe, Sally and Tinder (2020). Courtesy of Ed Cross.

Where do you most often buy art?

About myself/artists I work with.

Is there a work you regret buying?

No.

Abe Odedina, Eye in the Eye (2016).  Courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art.

Abe Odedina, Eye to eye (2016). Courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art.

What work have you hung above your couch? And in your bathroom?

By my sofa is Abe Odedinas Eye to eye, which, to my surprise and joy, Abe and Sarah gave us as a wedding gift.

In the bathroom I have a beautiful navy on a plate by my oldest friendhis daughter, India Dewar. It was an invitation to her father’s 60th birthday. Below is Butterflies flying around the daisies by my seven-year-old son, Ikenna.

Seascape plate.  Courtesy of Ed Cross.

Seascape plate. Courtesy of Ed Cross.

What’s the least practical piece of art you own?

Probably my own sculptures created during the seven years I called myself a sculptor. I have created a body of work from ruined and abandoned Indian Ocean canoes in conjunction with termites and sea slugs etc. Some of them were very big and very heavy, need I say more?

What work would you have liked to buy when you had the opportunity?

A few years ago, I noticed Jadé’s work Fadojutimi via Instagram and asked me if I could come see her to talk about a possible collaboration. Several buses later, I arrived at her studio in South London and very quickly realized that, as she did not wish to reference Nigeria or Africa in her work in any form, I was never going to work with her – and, indeed, she was already represented. As I was leaving, I asked him the price of his fabulous large canvases stacked against the wall. I thought £20,000 was a fair price, but a little out of my reach.

If you could steal one piece of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Self-portrait with two circles (circa 1665) by Rembrandt van Rijn.

“Summer Show // 1” runs until August 17 at Ed Cross Fine Art, London.

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