Art in the field

While his grand­fa­ther gam­bled, Alan Brass­ing­ton sketched the horses at Ire­land’s race­courses. One of them, finds Janet Men­zies, was suc­cess­ful


WIN, lose or just have an­other drink: ev­ery­body en­joys a day at the races. Aged 12, Alan Brass­ing­ton wasn’t do­ing any drink­ing but he soaked up ev­ery other el­e­ment of race­course life as he and his grand­fa­ther toured Ire­land’s race­courses in a VW Bee­tle. “Ev­ery sum­mer hol­i­days we would be off to all the race meet­ings. There were the lo­cal ones round Dublin, such as Phoenix Park (which has gone now), Dun­dalk and Punchestown, and, of course, the Cur­ragh. Ev­ery­body at the Cur­ragh knew my grand­fa­ther. We would ar­rive at the course and he would say, ‘See you later,’ and I would go round draw­ing the horses and look­ing at them, and see­ing the life of the race­course. Then he would find me and we went home – I don’t know how suc­cess­ful he was at gam­bling.”

Brass­ing­ton fell in love with horse rac­ing. “In those days it was so ex­cit­ing. I was fas­ci­nated by the book­mak­ers and try­ing to work out the tic-tac. Those men with their white gloves sig­nalling and some­body stand­ing watch­ing and fir­ing back the in­for­ma­tion – at the Ir­ish cour­ses all the dif­fer­ent book­ies had their own codes.”

The fam­ily’s finest hour, how­ever, was ac­tu­ally in England. “My grand­fa­ther had grey­hounds and one of his grey­hounds won the Water­loo Cup. They had the grey­hound in the ho­tel bed­room with them. It would have been the Adel­phi in Liver­pool, I’m sure – my grand­fa­ther was in funds at the time.”

Much as Brass­ing­ton loved the colour­ful char­ac­ters on the race­course, it was the horses that drew him most. “I was able to get so close to the horses – prob­a­bly closer than you can now – and I fell in love with their beauty.” It was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for Brass­ing­ton to go to art col­lege, al­though ini­tially he trained to do tex­tile de­sign. His big break in eques­trian paint­ing came with an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ack­er­man Gallery in Lon­don, where he was dis­cov­ered by art dealer and rac­ing fa­natic Theo Wadding­ton. “Things have pro­gressed from there and I’m lucky enough to be artist in res­i­dence for the Royal As­cot Rac­ing Club, which is won­der­ful be­cause I get to pick and choose what I do.”

Brass­ing­ton loves the old-fash­ioned, buff-coloured race pro­grammes at Royal As­cot be­cause they have lots of space for sketches on them. “I’m al­ways sketch­ing on the race­card – and if a horse I’ve sketched wins, I’ll give the card to the owner. I usu­ally give a card to The Queen as well.”

For this year’s Royal meet­ing, he pro­duced a 6ft by 7ft can­vas of the grey horse Lan­caster. “I have set it in the 1930s, which I en­joyed do­ing. But with th­ese near-life­size works it is tech­ni­cally very dif­fi­cult. Just stretch­ing the can­vas is a big chal­lenge and then you have to get the work to look how you want it to look. But it is worth it be­cause it is so im­pres­sive, it re­ally gives you the feel­ing of the phys­i­cal pres­ence of the horse. It takes a long time to com­plete. I work seven days a week on the paint­ing, in a ro­ta­tion, work­ing on one area and then go­ing back round as the paint­ing evolves. My treat af­ter a long day’s work is muck­ing out a sta­ble.”

An­other of Brass­ing­ton’s full-size works was a paint­ing for the book­maker Vic­tor Chan­dler of Pinch of Salt. “He was in train­ing at one of the Marl­bor­ough yards, just a two-year-old at the time. But I’m afraid he didn’t go on to be very suc­cess­ful. When I’m at the races sketch­ing, I will of­ten pick a very beau­ti­ful horse but they don’t win the race and the less ar­tis­ti­cally at­trac­tive ones do. Frankel is an ex­am­ple. He was the great­est race­horse for a gen­er­a­tion but I don’t want to paint him be­cause he isn’t a par­tic­u­larly good-look­ing horse. Whereas I painted Dubai Mil­len­nium, who was a re­ally gor­geous horse and very suc­cess­ful.”

One of Brass­ing­ton’s big­gest chal­lenges wasn’t a horse at all but a por­trait of Lester Pig­gott, who has a daunt­ing rep­u­ta­tion for not suf­fer­ing fools. Brass­ing­ton al­ready knew Pig­gott slightly from those early days at the Ir­ish cour­ses. “With Lester, a lot of peo­ple used to try to schmooze him. I think it up­set him be­cause he is some­one who is quite hon­est about life. When I went to his home at New­mar­ket for the sit­ting, the rac­ing was on the tele­vi­sion and he just went on watch­ing the rac­ing while I was paint­ing. It worked re­ally well be­cause he had that same con­cen­tra­tion as when he was a jockey, he was ab­so­lutely fo­cused.”

‘When I went to his home at New­mar­ket for the sit­ting, the rac­ing was on the tele­vi­sion and he just went on watch­ing while I was paint­ing’

Con­tact Alan on 07496 306069 or go to www.alan­brass­ing­ for pic­tures and in­for­ma­tion; look out for his work on show at race meet­ings through­out the year.

Alan brass­ing­ton on paint­ing lester pig­gott

Top: three-year-old Dip­tych Above: jock­eys be­fore the start at Royal As­cot Be­low: ready for the off at Ain­tree Right: wa­ter­colour of Lester Pig­gott Be­low right: dres­sage cham­pion Lorenzo

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