Where in the world is Wylie Caudill? Catching up with the official artist of Kentucky Derby 150

Artist Wylie Caudill standing next to a painting with colorful roses and a gold statue for the 150th Kentucky Derby standing at Churchill Downs

Wylie Caudill standing with his design for the official artwork for the 150th Kentucky Derby. | Photo by @andrewkungphoto

We’re just 57 days from the most exciting two minutes in sports — The Kentucky Derby. Why are we talking about that today? Because around here, the run for roses — and roses in general — have become quite synonymous with Lexington artist Wylie Caudill.

The painted horses and bourbon bottles adorned with Caudill’s 150th Kentucky Derby designs have been making their way around the internet — and the interstate lately. We were lucky enough to snag a few minutes of Caudill’s time to catch up on all the buzz about his colorful blooms.

Tell us about the process, did you apply or were you selected?
Back in January of last year, I was first inquired through an email from Woodford Reserve, and it was very vague. It just said, “Artwork related to the Derby, I thought you might be interested.” And then they sent a follow up email with exactly what the job would entail saying they had narrowed it down to me and another artist. I went in and interviewed for the job, and then one day I was sitting at Kenwick Table and it was snowing outside. I got a phone call from Woodford Reserve, and I ran outside, standing in the snow, and they offered me the job. It was so exciting. After that, it was several months of them showing me the brand, Woodford Reserve, and Churchill Downs — doing tours and tastings and really immersing myself in what they are.

A mural with a horse running on a background of red roses that says 146th Kentucky Derby Winner Authentic

The Authentic mural in Cynthiana is the first public piece to feature Wylie Caudill’s iconic rose design. | Photo by @wyliecaudillart

When did you first create your iconic rose design?
It was actually a mural in Cynthiana of the racehorse Authentic that won Derby 146. They asked me to paint a mural of him with the garland of roses, and I wanted to paint him running. So I sent them a design and it was a compromise — Authentic running but in the background it was just roses.

You paint a lot of things — bottles, murals, canvases, suits — what’s your favorite?
Definitely murals. I love large scale public exterior murals. I think it’s the most fun and the most rewarding. It’s the most accessible to people. It’s free. It’s public. And I think it adds so much to the identity and walkability of a city. I think it’s one of the best ways to contribute and help build a community.

Have you started painting your suit for Derby? What colors are we thinking?
I picked out a suit from Thom Browne, so it’s a designer suit. So, I’m a little nervous about what I’m going to paint on a designer suit. But, it will feature the same roses you see in the official artwork and on the bottle. I’m gonna implement that in a different way.

LEX_wylie caudill painting blue wall

Fun fact: Wylie Caudill doesn’t even bring rags to sites anymore, he just wears clothes that he can get paint on. | Photo courtesy of @wyliecaudillart

We appreciate your realness + behind the scenes aspect on your social media. Tell us a little bit about that.
I like seeing that from other people. I just think it’s interesting, you know. You can make a video of you showing off the finished product, but, people love watching the process...The struggles are so much more interesting to watch than anything clean and perfect. It’s neat to watch the nitty gritty.

What is your favorite restaurant + dish?
You can catch me at Corto Lima — I’m not kidding — twice a week. I go for the classic adobo chicken tacos and my favorite marg is the green goddess. I know they rotate their menu a lot, but one that’s always been on the menu that I love is, the prickly pear.

When you’re not working we can likely find you...
Probably shooting caffeine into my veins. I’m always at a coffee shop. I’m either at Lussi Brown’s or Kentucky Native Cafe. I think probably my favorite date idea is just brunch. I like a little day drinking + a nap.

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