Equine artist Lesley Alexander channels her horsewoman’s spirit to capture elegance and mystique on canvas.
By Alison Foster
Lesley Alexander feels most alive when she is surrounded by color—when she is lost in the rainbow palate of crimson, sienna and cerulean blue as she carefully transfers pigment from paintbrush to canvas in her New England studio, or when she is swept up by the warm chestnuts, crisp whites and rich greens of her beloved Paint Horses as they move beneath her or graze in the fields behind her home.
Not one for words, the typically shy and reserved artist prefers the solitude of nature and the subtle communication of animals to the raucous company of people, whom she has always struggled to understand. Her voice, however, comes alive in front of her easel; shades of browns and greens communicate her emotions, textures of horse hair and worn leather start conversations, and expertly crafted imagery conveys her thoughts and personality louder than words ever could. Color is her connection, and with her brush in hand, Lesley communicates confidently with the world around her.
“Horses understand me in ways that are deeper than words, and in painting them I am able to reach out to the world around me. The best thing about being an artist is that it allows me to communicate my feelings without worrying about finding the right way to say it,” the artist from Tolland, Connecticut, said.
Color defines both of Lesley’s passions, and it is her love of both riding and painting that launched Lesley on her trajectory as an up-and-coming virtuoso specializing in equine art.
A Tapestry of Inspiration
Lesley’s passion for color was established early in life. After tireless and heartfelt begging, 4-year old Lesley was given her heart’s desire: a pony for her birthday. She named the chestnut Shetland “Strawberry,” and they spent daydream-filled days cavorting around the backyard and exploring trails.
As Lesley continued to grow, so did her love affair with horses, and at age 10 she took her first formal lesson and she soon began entered the trials of 4-H competition. It was Dear Abbe, a chestnut tobiano pinto pony she shared with her sister, that inspired Lesley’s passion for horses with color. It was from atop “Abbe’s” marbled back, as she threaded her way around warm up pens at local shows, that Lesley was introduced to the grace, power and versatility of Paint Horses. It was love at first sight.
A registered Paint came into her life next, and the Alexander family has never looked back. Currently, her family owns a small but personality-packed herd of five Paints and two miniature horses: three chestnuts, two bays, one palomino and a gray. For Lesley, a perfect morning starts by wandering through their multi-colored coats at dawn–tickling a white nose, brushing a golden mane and tossing hay to a cacophony of nickering sable silhouettes.
“You could say I’m hooked,” she said. “Paints have shaped me as a rider and have introduced me to so many skills and disciplines.”
Though Lesley has owned and showed several Paints, her bay overo Zip It Good was her main partner through her Youth and Amateur adventures. In 2007, Lesley and “Apollo” earned a national championship in dressage, a capstone on years of dreams and effort.
But for Lesley, riding and showing Apollo was about so much more than blue ribbons and shiny silver buckles. As wonderful as awards are, it was astride Apollo that Lesley gained something far more precious: confidence in herself. Apollo didn’t need words to understand her; he could read her unspoken fears, dreams and desires in the movement of her body and the waves of her emotions. Without uttering a single word, he transformed a spotlight-shy girl into one who could step confidently into the arena, put herself on display and show the world exactly what she was capable of. Their connection is radiant, and Lesley’s pride in him emanates in the bold brush strokes and the depth of emotion seen in her painting of him, titled Apollo.
“He is my pride and joy,” the horsewoman said. “He taught me so much about myself, as both a person and as a rider.”
Honing Her Craft
Lesley’s love of painting also began young, and it’s always been intertwined, and perhaps inseparable, from her love of horses.
“I have been drawing horses from the time I could pick up a pencil, even if you couldn’t tell what the scribbles were,” she said.
Lesley honed her talent as an artist with extra classes at school, constant practice and summer art courses. Eventually, she went to Montserrat College of Art and formally expanded her techniques. It was there that she discovered acrylic painting and graphite drawing; she fell in love with the subtle challenge of blending colors and infusing vibrancy into acrylic paints and the nuance required to transform simple graphite drawings into breathtaking works of art.
While her technique has refined and flourished since school-girl days spent scribbling with colored pencils, her subject matter has stayed the same. Lesley continues to focus primarily on painting horses, favoring realism and persevering with each piece until it achieves her own perfectionist standards for her work.
“My art has always come from the things that I love and surround myself with. I love painting and I love horses,” Lesley explained. “From the beginning, my horse Apollo has been the subject of numerous paintings, and he is still one of my favorite subjects because I know him so well. I feel like I can capture everything about him.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.