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“An Exemplary Alum” Caudill named official artist for 150th Kentucky Derby

Wylie Caudill

Read this on the Eastern Progress.

By: Gracy Kelley

Kentucky serves as the birthplace of several talents across the artistic and musical spheres. Wylie Caudill, a Cynthiana native and Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) alumni, is no different. Known for his large-scale mural work across the state, Caudill attended EKU to pursue a degree in broadcasting.

“When I was touring EKU, the broadcasting department was kind of telling me about their film program — the film oriented things you (EKU) had to offer,” Caudill said. “And it was close to home, and I had a scholarship there so I think that’s how I kind of made the decision,” said Caudill.

While working on his degree, Caudill was drawn to the artistic opportunities EKU had to offer. EKU’s concrete served as his canvas. Caudill, utilizing chalk, began creating art across campus, earning him the endearing title, ‘the chalk guy.’

“I did a lot of chalk art around campus and just became known as the chalk guy for the three years I attended EKU and that built up a big following from my Instagram and my social media accounts,” said Caudill.

According to Caudill, he graduated EKU with an Instagram following of close to 2,000; now, Caudill celebrates a combined 250,000 followers across Instagram and Tiktok. Caudill’s work in chalk led him into the world of large-scale art, painting his first mural for The Stave, a restaurant in Frankfort, after graduating.

“I started to get a lot of inquiries about large scale art, in general, just because people knew about my chalk art from college and it really just sort of snowballed from there and that’s how I started doing murals,” said Caudill.

According to Caudill, he’s had the opportunity to work alongside several large-scale brands, including MTV, Mountain Dew, and YouTube.

Most recently, Caudill was named the official artist for the 2024 Kentucky Derby.

“Near the end of January, I got a phone call and (Woodford Reserve) offered the job to me, which at the time I knew was to be the official artist for the 150th Kentucky Derby, both Churchill Downs and Woodford Reserve,” said Caudill.

His work, often consisting of repetitive florals, largely roses, is what initially drew Churchill Downs leadership to his work.

“My style over the years has developed into something I like to call organic repetition. I love repeating patterns and all those patterns are typically florals or things that are more organically shaped … I just find that very pleasing and interesting and satisfying to look at and it’s something I like to include in everything I do lately,”  said Caudill. “That is something I think attracted the Derby to my art because the Derby is known for roses.”

Caudill’s painting, as the official artwork for the Kentucky Derby, will be featured across a variety of racing programs in addition to merchandise for the 2024 derby season.

“We were drawn to Wylie’s rose design as it resonates with one of our most beloved Kentucky Derby traditions, which is presenting the winning thoroughbred with a garland of red roses …We are thrilled to be working with him,” said Casey Ramage, vice president of marketing and partnerships, in a September press release from Churchill Downs.

In addition to his title as “Official Artist of the Kentucky Derby”, Caudill will also serve as the artist for the Woodford Reserve commemorative derby bottle. According to the release, he will also create murals around Churchill Downs in addition to a surprise location next year.

“That’s the official artwork for Churchill Downs. But there will be a second painting that will be released in the spring that will be featured on the Woodford Reserve bottle … the Woodford Reserve bottle will be in liquor stores and bars across the globe. So I’m super excited about that aspect,” said Caudill.

While at Eastern, Caudill was involved in a variety of programs across campus. Specifically, Caudill found his home within the Theater Department.

“He was in my Acting I class. Gosh, it was a long time ago, seven or eight years ago, something like that. He wasn’t a theater major in school, but he did a lot of plays,” said Matthew Johnson, assistant professor and director of musical theater at EKU. “He was very interested in what we were doing, but he was very shy.”

Johnson remembers Caudill fondly, recounting his skill as both an actor and an artist.

“As an actor, I’ve seen him grow just about more than any other student I ever had. He really knows how to take criticism in a healthy way, to get better. He doesn’t take it personally or anything,” said Johnson. “Wylie is a sweetheart, very driven, he’s very talented, very kind. He’s really driven to get better, whatever it is he’s doing.”

Adam Smyth, the technical director and lighting designer within the theater department, echoed Johnson about Caudill’s character.

“He just struck me in general as an outgoing person who was both hardworking and very talented.” said Smyth, “He’s a super nice guy, he is generous with both his time and his work.”

Caudill’s work within Kentucky is vast. He has murals visible across the state. His work includes murals at The Grove in Lexington, The Summit at Fritz Farms, the Lexington’s Writer’s Room, and countless other works of art.

Although his artwork and social accounts for the next year will be largely derby related, Caudill is gearing up for additional projects in the future.

“I’ve got a few murals coming in Lexington,” Caudill said. “That will probably start in the fall and (have) a lot more canvas pieces actually, that’s something new that I’m getting ready to gear up for is to have a collection of canvas pieces to do a few more, gallery shows and exhibits.”

Smyth noted Caudill’s contributions to both the Appalachian Shakespeare center, and Kentucky as a whole.

“This last summer, he worked with us on a show for the Appalachian Shakespeare Center. And I think that may have gotten in the way of some of his painting work … he’s a great person and I couldn’t be happier for someone to have the success that he has had, he deserves it.” said Smyth.

Johnson voiced much of the same sentiments.

“He’s very loyal, he’s been very loyal to the Appalachian Shakespeare Center. He’s been in every one of our shows that we’ve done so far,” said Johnson, “He is very much a Kentucky boy at heart. And I’m surprised, very close to his family. I’m surprised he hasn’t left Kentucky … He is an exemplary alum.”


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