Media FAQ's Part 2: Stories on Art, Life & Derby (Copyright 2011 Lesley Humphrey)

Derby Trail Expression

Q: What draws you to horse racing or to the depiction of scenes of revelry/sports/light and color?

I’ve been a horsewoman all of my life. I have always been attracted to equine sports, from riding in gymkhana and point-to-points growing up in the Pony Club in Britain, to show jumping, fox hunting, dressage and eventing in the United States, as an adult.

For a brief period, when I first moved to Texas with my husband, I was an office manager of a stud farm and race training facility in Kress, Texas, an organization which bred and trained race horses for the quarter horse and thoroughbred industry. Once, during my lunch hour, as a favor to the trainer, I agreed to gallop a fabulous Kentucky thoroughbred on its way to a new track in Oklahoma, just so I could know what it felt like. (The quarter horse riders were not comfortable with the 17 hand athlete.) The stride was enormous; the power and velocity formidable. I could not see (no goggles), nor could I hear anything but the thunder of hooves and heaving of breath. For a mind-blowing 1.5 miles I endured this, my legs crumbling like jello upon my dismount. This horse achieved the track record that stood for years at Blue Ribbon Downs, Sallisaw, OK (I believe that was the name of the track) just two weeks later. It was my first, and my last full gallop down the track on a Kentucky thoroughbred.

For art to be authentic, you have to “paint what you know”. I know how a horse feels, whether I’m trotting children around with a pony and buggy around my neighborhood, or feeling what it’s like to fly like the wind on a massive athlete, or take a leap of faith into a water jump. I know what it’s like to win, and I certainly know what it’s like to lose. I know what it takes to keep on trying, no matter what.

I paint what life “feels like” rather than just what it “looks like”. The energy of life is my inspiration, and horses are my representative for the spirit of life.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of how you conceived of and produced these paintings? How long did it take? What obstacles did you face and overcome?

At the root of everything is a profound love of art and the creative process. I have to say it borders on a ‘spiritual’ experience for me and I feel the best paintings are always drawn from a personal life experience that I feel strongly about.

Regarding the technical aspects, the commission required several weeks of sketching and approval of ideas. After years of intense study and daily practice, I never actually "think" about my technique any more, (unless I am teaching a workshop). I believe that my best, most expressive paintings always come from an emotional rather than a visual encounter, and because the publisher/agents were attracted to these more abstract paintings, I had to find a way to make the art personal in order for it to be something that was true to my aesthetic. Following a complex approval process, which required much negotiation and confidence, and I am very, very grateful to Jettstream and Churchill Downs for working so hard to understand, and work with, my very individual artistic process. Churchill and its agents allowed me to paint several ideas, then selected the ones they felt best met everyone's goals.

Now for how the idea came to me...(As a writer yourself, I know you can appreciate this): Every single creative act/endeavor of mine begins its life as a kernel of inspiration derived from my daily journal. I write each and every morning, and have done so most of my life. Writing enables me to escape the traps of my fearful, ego- mind so that I can find something meaningful, or beautiful upon which to base my day. With this in mind, when I found out from Clare Jett that I was fortunate enough to have been selected as the next Kentucky Derby artist, I felt that, with an audience that was so large, and the commission so important and meaningful to so many, that it had to represent something far greater than my ability to paint something beautifully. It was my greatest hope that the work would be a conduit for something much greater than myself, and that the people who looked upon it would see something in it that reflects what is best within us all.

At such times, poetry usually comes before, and inspires the painting, and this time was no exception; With altruistic intention and ideas “brewing” inside of me, I thought “If there was only one more painting left to do in my life, what would I want it to say? What last message would I want my kids to know?” The words literally hit me “Don’t give up.” I wrote a poem that I called “The Derby Beat”. (Just yesterday I received a request from First Lady of Kentucky, Mrs. Jane Beshear's office that she would like to place this image and poem at the capitol showcase in honor of Mrs. Beshear's program: The Celebration of Hope. I am so honored.

The poem has already helped people throughout Kentucky and Texas, from those battling dreadful diseases to loss of employment. It is part of the reason why my husband and I are donating the proceeds of the Oaks painting sale to Horses and Hope charity.) I’ll share it now:

The Unfinished Race by Lesley Humphrey

When sometimes you feel out of place,

You’ve further to run just to stay in the race,

And the journey ahead seems too hard to face

.......Don’t give up


When legs become weak, and muscles burn,

And the earth beneath you begins to churn,

To safer ground, your thoughts may turn, yet

......Don’t give up


When your heart can offer you nothing more,

When defeat descends like leaden door,

With your confidence leaking from every pore...

.....Don’t give up


When all you can do is stay in the race,

Rejecting all compromise; not saving face,

When you dig deep just to keep your pace

.....Don’t give up


You’ll reach a point when, as you make the last turn,

From deep within, a force starts to burn,

Internal fires fueled, when you yearn... just...

.....Don’t give up


The finish line, that glint of gold

Is reached by those who do not fold,

For guiding hands come to the bold, who

.....Don’t give up


That vein of gold you rush to meet,

The pulse of life pounds with your feet,

You’ll find resolve in every beat, when you

.....Don’t give up!

.....Don’t give up!

.....Don’t give up!

.....Don’t give up!

.....Don’t give up!

Can you hear the hoofbeats? My friend said this style of poetry is called “onomatopoeia. Who knew? I certainly did not!

(This painting will be available soon in print; keep posted or visit to enquire. I will be giving a signed copy of my poem with every image also, to help you on your way.)