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From the gavel to the easel

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Champion jockey Tony McCoy with artist John Fitzgerald

Champion jockey Tony McCoy with artist John Fitzgerald

Vivid: John Fitzgerald's portrait of the Jim Bolger-trained Dawn Approach at Ascot 2013 with Kevin Manning on board.

Vivid: John Fitzgerald's portrait of the Jim Bolger-trained Dawn Approach at Ascot 2013 with Kevin Manning on board.

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Champion jockey Tony McCoy with artist John Fitzgerald

It's a long way from painting Charolais cattle in pastures around Co Meath as a teenager to deploying the oils as an 'access all areas artist' at this week's Cheltenham Festival but for equine artist, John Fitzpatrick, it has truly been a fascinating journey.

It all began with John, painting the cattle and sheep roaming the 10ac outside the family home in Dunboyne or the cows at his neighbour's dairy farm and developed when farmers further afield would ask him to paint their favourite bulls.

"Charolais, Whiteheads, Simmentals, I painted the lot, even the bulls," the 40 year old recalls today.

Yet despite studying industrial design at Letterkenny IT and the University of Wales, Fitzgerald always knew that when his working days arrived he would fetch up working with his dad Barry in the family's auctioneering business, Brady Fitzgerald, in Maynooth.

It was a sound job at the time but when the boom didn't get 'boomier' during Bertie Ahern's third government he had serious decisions to make and little time to make them.

"I was working at Brady-Fitzgerald but when the downturn came it had a very dramatic effect on the business.

"Like everyone else I had to look at ways of generating an income and ways of keeping things going. And I was married with a young son at the time," John explains. "I was thinking of what I could do and as I was always interested in painting so I thought I should develop my skills."

He opted to do a refresher year at the College of Art and Design in Dun Laoghaire and today whether it is a portrait of a horse or a jockey or a Whitehead or a Charolais John Fitzgerald's name is mentioned by the cognoscenti in these matters in the same breath as Peter Curling, a leading Irish painter of equine and rural subjects.

Not bad for an auctioneer pondering what to do when the boom went bust.

His big break came when he was appointed 'artist in residence 'at the Curragh racecourse a few years ago.

It was an 'Open Sesame' moment for the artist and led to a variety of top end commissions including paintings of champion turf horse Australia and Dawn Approach, the Jim Bolger champion subsequently acquired by Sheik Mohammed.

John is currently working on a commission for the French owners of Cirrus des Aigles.

The Curragh residence also opened doors at Cheltenham where last year he was given access all areas.

He describes his week in the Cotswolds last year as fantastic - made more fantastic when he put £20 each way at 33/1 on Lord Windermere for the Gold Cup on the advice of trainer Jim Culloty.

So does he intend to do some punting at the National Hunt shrine this week?

"I'm mainly going to draw, sketch and paint but I think I'll have another bet on Lord Windermere and I heard Barry Geraghty saying that Sprinter Sacre was back to his best so I'll have a bet on him.

"But I'll be mainly painting. And I'll be painting Tony McCoy because this is his last Cheltenham," he says.

And has the gavel been permanently replaced by the easel I ask him.

"Auctioneering is the core business and I run the office with my mother Valerie but I have to say that the art is taking up more and more of my time."

John Fitzgerald can be contacted at info@fitzgeraldart.ie

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