What I’m buying and why: Ed Cross on collecting African artists before the market boom and the £20,000 Jadé Fadojutimi work he abandoned

Ed Cross has championed the work of African and African diaspora artists since founding his eponymous gallery 13 years ago. A former artist himself, he has also been a collector for a long time – albeit with a much more modest budget than today.

In May, Cross opened the gallery’s first permanent space at 19 Garrett Street, London. The gallerist has just unveiled the first summer exhibition at the new digs, showcasing work by seven artists including Pabi Daniel, Leah Gordon and Abe Odedina.

We caught up with the gallerist, collector and artist about his adventures in buying and selling African art before it became a market force, how he stores his own impractically scaled works and why he missed the chance to get on board early with Jadé Fadojutimi.

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

What was your first purchase?

My first purchase was a woodcut by the Ugandan master Jak Katarikawe. I stumbled across an exhibition of his at a Nairobi hotel around 1989 and fell in love with his work, whose expressive brushwork 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 tracked Jak down in a seedy hotel called Pigalle, staying in a room crammed with his own work, and I bought a print to give my sister as a wedding present. In the years that followed I bought two of his paintings.

Uneducated in the western sense and only able to write his name, Jak was a former traditional dancer turned painter – his paintings were full of Ankole cows, which have sacred status in his community. I was delighted when Michael Armitage paid homage to Jak and other East African masters who influenced and inspired him in his recent exhibition at the Royal Academy.

What was your last purchase?

As an art dealer, many gems pass through your hands and it is really tragic when that happens to youdon’t acquire at least some of these gems. For a long time I’ve been rolling a ball up the hill with contemporary African art – the prices were low and my earnings modest for a man with family responsibilities, so collecting my own artists has only become a serious thing in recent years.

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

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

pabie daniel Untitled (2021). Courtesy of Ed Cross.

What works or artists would you like to add to your collection this year?

Last year I came across Miranda Forrester’s work through a tip from my friend, the Israeli collector Serge Tiroche. Miranda is now represented by Tiwani Contemporary and I have acquired one of her works from them. I’m interested in seeing their next show and, if the stars are right, buying another play. Looking from close to home as usual, I think it’s high time to buy works by Wole Lagunju, which we’ll be showing in September, and the enormously talented and overlooked British-Jamaican artist Eugene Palmer, the we will show in November.

What is the most expensive piece of art you own?

One of the highlights of the past year has been the launch of the incredible painter Sahara Longe. I bought one of her best earlier works, Sally and Amadu, and the value of it is really everyoneI guess. A truly tiny work of hers sold for around £60,000 at a Whitechapel Gallery charity auction.

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

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

Where do you buy art most often?

By me/the artists I work with.

Is there a work that you regret buying?

no

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

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

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What’s in your bathroom?

Abe Odedina is standing near my sofas eye level, which Abe and Sarah gave us for our wedding to my surprise and delight.

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

seascape plate.  Courtesy of Ed Cross.

seascape plate. Courtesy of Ed Cross.

What’s the most impractical piece of art you own?

Probably my own sculptures, made during the seven years that I called myself a sculptor. I have created a number of works from wrecked and abandoned canoes in the Indian Ocean in collaboration 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 have bought if you had the opportunity?

A few years ago, I became aware of Jadé’s work Fadojutimi via Instagram and asked if I could visit them to talk about a possible collaboration. A few buses later I arrived at her studio in South London and very quickly found that I would never work with her as she did not want her work to reference Nigeria or Africa in any way – indeed, she was already represented. As I was leaving I asked the price of their 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 an artwork without getting caught, what would it be?

Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665) by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Summer Show //1 is on view at Ed Cross Fine Art, London, through August 17th.

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