Unveiled: My official 137th Kentucky Derby Art (Copyright 2010 Lesley Humphrey)

VICTORY 24 x 18 oil on panel. Official Art, Kentucky Derby 137. (Collection Mr. Bob Evans, CEO, Churchill Downs)

Vincent Van Gogh once remarked that any ‘good’ painting is an act of generosity. Whilst I cannot be so bold as to label any artful attempt as good or bad, it’s safe to say that I do hope for my work to be considered ‘good’. With this in mind, I approached VICTORY with you in mind. When you look at the painting, I want YOU to feel like the winner. You are part of the winner’s circle and this is your horse, coming to you, looking at you. Every gesture, shape, line and layer was created with this intention in mind.

LILY, JIM, ROSE & JULEP 24 x 18 oil on panel. Official Art, Oaks 137. (Available for purchase, 100% of my proceeds to benefit Horses & Hope charity)

Fashion, fun and fancy hats were my inspiration for the Oaks poster. On Oaks day, the ladies parade like rows of beautiful flowers. Derby traditions were integral to creating my race goers. Allow me to introduce them to you: First there’s Lily… She’s a bit of a stargazer. Next to her is Jim…. He’s always got a beam in his eye. Rose, as usual, is laying all over everyone, and Julep, brings everything fresh and fun to the group.

Here I am signing prints on November 19th at my unveiling champagne reception at Churchill Downs.

Thank you everyone for making me feel so welcome, and thank you to all my Lexington friends for taking the time to drive up for the occasion. It meant so much to see your lovely faces in the group. Your presence reassured me more than you can imagine.

The Derby Beat: A Poem (copyright 2010 Lesley Humphrey)

DERBY SPIRIT 2010, by Lesley Humphrey

When it finally settled in that I was going to be the official 137th Kentucky Derby artist (2011), I thought about what I would love the painting to be about.... I asked myself "If there was one last work of art I could do in the world, what would I want my children to know?"

The Derby, life, and any kind of achievement in the world is as a result of not giving up.  I thought about my friends who were sick.  I thought about the great Kentucky people I know as they strive each year for that Derby super horse that will keep the industry going.  I thought about my great grandfather who went to the Yukon in search of gold... twice, and about my sister who died in 2005 after a long battle with M.S.... And I decided that it had to be about NOT GIVING UP, and then a poem came to me.....

Now, this painting was not the one selected for the Derby images, and so you see it here unfinished, but it is the accompanying poem that is flowing from person to person like a balm.  I cannot tell you what it means to me, that it has touched people who have lost jobs, are fighting dreadful personal battles, and even young college students.  It has legs of its own.... It's written for you, whoever you are....

THE DERBY BEAT by Lesley Humphrey (2010 All rights reserved)

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 a 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!

The Day I Met the Queen

When I was 11 years old, my school did a field trip to London and I remember pressing my face against the bars of Buckingham Palace, wishing that one day I could see inside.  Fast forward to eight years ago; I was in a seminar and asked to write down what I would consider the greatest symbol that "I had made it".  I wrote:  "To meet the Queen."  In May 2006, as I walked through the great gates of Buckingham Palace, and set foot upon the gravel, these memories came rushing back and I finally understood what people meant when they wrote that art transcends all social boundaries.  My art had brought me here.  I felt such gratitude.

For, and in honor of my wonderful Uncle Norman Ball and his fellow soldiers, all veteran soldiers, I executed a painting of the Grenadier Guards' Brigadier General, so they could present it to him upon his forthcoming retirement.  Much to my surprise, months later, as the Grenadier's artist, I was invited to the Trooping of the Color (the Queen's "invitation only" birthday parade), and to spend a weekend with the Grenadiers, attending their memorial services in Wellington Barracks, meeting several dignitaries, including Prince Philip. This weekend was pivotal, was indeed a turning point in my life, for many reasons.

The memorial service at the Royal Military Chapel, was a beautiful, and solemn affair attended by military officials, Lords, Ladies, and the handful of old veteran guardsman still alive from World War II, including my own Uncle Norman.  I felt privileged and  touched beyond I can explain, as I begun to more fully understand the idea of duty, and of being a part of something much more important, and greater than yourself.

When I was placed in line to meet our Queen, a wizened old man, draped in medals, fully uniformed and wearing a beret upon his 80+ year old head, was wheeled up and put behind me.  I could not tolerate this, after the service and all I had learned at Wellington Barracks.  To be here and standing in front of this man, just because I could paint, seemed unimaginable to me.  I asked him if he had ever met The Queen, and he said "Oh no, love.  But I do get to come every year to get a glimpse of her."  Well .....I started to get his wheelchair and put him in my place. I was told I could not do this... and I started to cry.  The Queen's Equerry came up, in all his pomp and regalia and asked what was the matter, and I explained I would prefer to stand behind this veteran and that I just couldn't have him behind me.  He asked people to move aside and took the old man's details and decided to allow us both to stand in line.  The old man was as erect as he could be in his wheelchair, and when it was his turn, I believe The Queen spent more time with him than with anyone else in the lineup.  I was incredibly impressed that she was keen to know his battalion, and knew every sortie he has served in, and spoke to him with great dignity.  He could not speak as his old hand held mine until we were all released.  For myself.... when she looked at me and asked me about the painting I did for the Household Cavalry (this one is in Hyde Park Barracks of her drum horse Constantine) I thought she was so incredibly beautiful, even though she's just turned 80.  Her skin was like porcelain, and her eyes as violet-blue as the zenith.  Everyone kept saying "She spend a lot of time with you didn't she?"  But it was only a minute.... a beautiful minute.

Since 2006, I have never put this in the newspaper; Never used it for publicity, because I felt it was a gift too meaningful to brandish about in the media, and I wanted to savor the experience as the deep and solemn honor it was.  I was changed forever, because I finally understood duty and being a part of something bigger than yourself, personified by all the old soldiers and the Queen.  It was, and always shall be, so much more than an event to me.  I have decided to share the story with you now because, in the light of the upcoming Kentucky Derby notoriety, I am being asked about it, and thought it was time to share it, at last..... with my best wishes to you, and especially to the Royal Grenadier Guards and all the young and old people in the armed forces ... wherever you are.

Painting From Memory...

January 2010: FRENCH QUARTER POODLE. 8 x 5 watercolor on paper.

My husband and I went to New Orleans recently, taking my daughter to college, and hoping to catch some jazz (he to listen, me to watch and sketch).  It was too cold.. brrrr.  Wind howled through the streets and the only people walking were doing so at a great rate, from car to house... Except for this guy.  I observed him while drinking tea from the lovely breakfast room of a very cool, artsy hotel (Danny Glover was two tables away.)  A massive, coffee-coloured french poodle was dragging a cossack down the street, backpack bouncing madly, scarves a-flailing, and I thought "Darn! Where is my sketchbook or camera?"  Never mind, I thought.  I'll take a mental snapshot.  Back in our room, Larry read the paper and I painted this.  (You can buy it from New Editions Gallery, Lexington, KY)