Celebrating an eccentric artist and his bourbon-loving goat in Lexington, Kentucky – Garden & Gun

Some people might be surprised to find a whimsical green unicorn, a pair of goats in love, or a jeweled owl at the Cross Gate Gallery’s tenth annual Sporting Art Auction on November 18 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. These fantastic, heavily stylized paintings by the late artist Henry Faulkner stand out in the catalog of the Hounds, Thoroughbreds and Fox Hunts auction – but the Thirteen Faulkners may well be among this year’s most coveted works. “People are desperate for a Faulker painting,” says Greg Ladd, owner of the Cross Gate Gallery. “The fact that we can put thirteen up for auction is a big deal.”

Photo: Courtesy of Cross Gate Gallery

unicornHenry Faulkner, oil on masonite.

Ladd first met Faulkner in the late 1970s and traded with him for years, trading in his gallery’s old, fine frames for paintings. The Kentucky-born artist gave Ladd his last painting before his unexpected death in 1981. “He was a real character, very eccentric,” Ladd recalls. Faulkner was often accompanied by his goat, Alice, and when he wasn’t, she was sitting outside in his convertible. Sometimes he would come in with freshly picked corn to share with Ladd. His work almost always amused the gallerist, particularly a certain ‘still wet’ oil painting of a pig in suspenders.

Photo: Courtesy of Cross Gate Gallery

wisdom & gems, Henry Faulkner, oil on masonite.

Faulkner’s cheerful motifs and bright colors contrasted sharply with his troubled childhood in orphanages and foster homes, where his conservative foster parents condemned art as “the work of the devil,” explains Ladd. He also faced difficulties as a young gay man in the 1940s when laws and societal norms punished homosexuality and he ended up in both prison and a psychiatric hospital. At the institution, he befriended the poet Ezra Pound, who encouraged Faulkner to continue painting and follow his passion.

Photo: Cory McDonald Collection / State Library of Florida

Henry Faulkner in 1968.

After completing formal art training on the West Coast, Faulkner returned to Kentucky and created vivid scenes of gardens, flowers, and animals on hardboard, applying rich colors straight from his oil paint tubes. He sometimes scribbled short poems on the back of his pieces. He loved animals and had over 25 furry and feathered friends on his Lexington farm, including Alice, his constant companion and frequent muse.

Fualkner was particularly popular in the social circles of Key West, Florida, where he often wintered. Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway embraced Faulkner as friend and artist, and two of his paintings, including a house portrait commissioned by Hemingway’s wife, hung in the writer’s Key West home. “Henry has to be some kind of celebrity,” says Ladd. “Everyone wanted to meet him”

Those who have met Faulkner have also had the pleasure of meeting Alice, who went everywhere with the artist — including to fancy parties where she reportedly stole bourbon from partygoers’ cups. Even the University of Kentucky football fans loved her: After Alice appeared on the field with her owner (and a rabbit) at halftime, the stands exploded with cheers.

Photo: Courtesy of Cross Gate Gallery

Persian gardenHenry Faulkner, oil on masonite.

Today, Faulkner is still celebrated in Lexington and beyond, and his work is increasingly difficult to find. “There’s a lot of demand for it,” says Ladd. “Most of the people who buy Faulkner’s work at the auction are local and wish they’d taken a few with them when they were alive.” Although Faulkner’s work was often otherworldly, he found direct inspiration in the southern landscape . One of Ladd’s own favorite works from the upcoming auction, Gratz Park, is an ode to the natural beauty and magic of his homeland. “You look at his pictures and smile.”

Photo: Courtesy of Cross Gate Gallery

Gratz ParkHenry Faulkner, oil on masonite.