Atlanta-based Derby artist picks a winner


By KENNETH R. WILSON (guest blogger)

While sucking down mint juleps in the Kentucky Derby infield over the weekend, I was able to catch up with Jeff Williams, an Atlanta-based artist who was chosen as the Official Artist of the Kentucky Derby this year. While waiting for him to finish autographing his art prints, I observed some differences between his Derby experience and my own:

After two days lounging in the infield grass at turn one, I began the long walk to Gate 10 where I was to meet Williams. Wading through the infield’s mud, coeds, and armed soldiers, I took the tunnel to the grandstands. The tunnel’s exit emerged behind Gate 1 where the grandstand crowd and the infielders came together like oil and water. As the suspiciously discreet and narrow pathway bent behind the paddock toward Gate 10 and the Millionaires Row elevators, the contrasts become more obvious.

Not only was Williams’ Derby experience quieter, but the dress colors become more subdued. Bright whites became off-white. Pinks became purple. Lime greens became 1970s refrigerator greens. Additional differences literally hit me in the face in a proliferation of flamboyant hats and decidedly sweeter, more mature smelling perfumes.

Dressed in a white linen suit, Panama hat, and sunglasses, Williams explained that he was asked to be this year’s official artist because of his distinctive art deco style. His painting depicts the extravagance of Millionaires Row as six horses sprint toward the finish line and three lovely ladies chat with their backs turned during the “most exciting two minutes in sports.”

In addition to the mountain of contrasting differences between Williams’ experience and my own, I discovered another at 6:27 p.m. when horse number eight came barreling around the fourth turn. Apparently, one gets better information while flying first-class to the Derby and sitting in good seats, because when presented with the same question everyone is asked at the Derby, the Atlanta artist responded, “Mine That Bird.”