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By Kentucky For Kentucky |

Happy Kentucky Derby season, y'all! Like you, we love the "The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports" and all of the awesome festivities leading up to it. It's one of Kentucky's most kick-ass traditions. In celebration of the 2015 Kentucky Derby we're excited to bring you this incredibly awesome "Derby Days" print designed by Louisville artist Chris Nolen. We're pumped, this print is amazing!

The "Derby Days" prints can be purchased on our website this Friday, April 24th at 10am. We'll also have them for sale at the Original Makers Club Kentucky Kicks Ass Derby Kick-Off party this Thursday, April 23rd at Farmington Historic Home in Louisville. Designed in Kentucky by Chris Nolen. Only 1000 18×24 prints signed by Chris will be available. Printed on French Paper Company 80# speckle tone paper by Thoroughbred Printing in Lexington Kentucky. Only $30.

So who's the artist behind these amazing "Derby Days" prints? Kentucky, meet Chris Nolen. We're making introductions because Chris and his wife are brand new Kentuckians, recently making the move from Houston to their new home in Louisville. A friend passed along his portfolio and we were sold. Chris is an amazing artist who has created some killer work for brands and bands like Nike, Arcade Fire, Bonnaroo Art and Music Festival, and The Flaming Lips, to name just a few. On top of that, he's a great guy and we've loved working with him. To help you get to know Chris, we asked him a few questions. Check out his answers below.

Tell us a little about yourself Chris.

I'm originally from Mississippi. I grew up on a farm, and worked in the fields most days. But like Luke Skywalker, I looked up at the sun and dreamed of far away places with concrete and a bit more cultural variety. I was an odd mix of a person…from the country, but admittedly more of a city boy at heart. All I wanted was to skateboard and listen to great music, but those things weren't really possible in my hometown. In high-school, I played sports and all that, but I identified much more with the D&D / Punk / Nerd guys in the area. I was super-big into the Seattle and Alternative music scenes…and out of that I got my first exposure to Gig Posters. I obsessed over Ames Bros. designs out of Seattle – particularly the work Brad Klaussen did for Pearl Jam. They were amazing and inspiring. So when I eventually went to college, half of my student projects were related to music.

Unfortunately, as many gig poster designers will attest, they don't pay very well if you haven't established your name and demand. So I kinda gave up on it at first and my path lead more in a much more traditional / commercial direction. I got my first job as a designer in Advertising, and for the next 10 years, that's what I did as an Art Director. It was pretty great at times, as I got to do lots of cool TV projects and what not, but as a designer with my somewhat punk ethos, it wasn't always satisfying, and thus after a decade of doing work for Insurance companies and lawyers, I was burned out and needed a shakeup.

My wife and I moved to Houston, TX, and that's when my life totally changed. I decided that rather than getting another advertising job, I'd pursue poster art and design. It was a bit slow at first, doing jobs for local bands that paid basically nothing. But eventually, I had the opportunity to make a poster for my fav band, The Walkmen. No one asked me to, I just took the initiative. So I sent my design to the promoters over and over and over until someone finally decided to use it. Long story short, based on that design, the flood gates were opened, particularly in Texas, and I've been doing posters for great bands and festivals ever since.

What brought you to Louisville, Kentucky?

I'd visited Louisville about 13 years or so ago on a trip to see a show at The Palace theater. I'd never been to KY before, but instantly fell in love with the beauty of the rolling hills, the fields, and the old architecture. Something about the area just clicked for me. Fast forward to the present and my wife had a potential job opportunity here, we went for it based on this memory. Thankfully, Louisville is even better than I remember it!

So what do you think about Kentucky so far?

KY makes my heart sing. I'm not even kidding. Growing up on a farm in rural Mississippi, I'm quite familiar with the honest, hard-working ethic that is so present here. The gorgeous landscapes and idyllic farms are right out of my fondest childhood memories. And, frankly, this part of KY is far more beautiful than where I grew up. But being a city guy at heart, I enjoy the cosmopolitan aspects of Louisville. In particular, I love the dedication to preservation of architecture and culture that seems to be present here. Nothing makes me happier these days than a stroll through the European-style architecture of downtown and Old Louisville. Well, maybe a hike through some of the hills, creeks, and rivers that marble the countryside would make me equally happy. It's all incredible, and worth fighting to preserve. Thankfully, lots of good folks are out there on the vanguard of that effort. Ultimately, It's the mix of preservation, sophistication, natural beauty, southern charm, and cultural diversity that I love here.

What was your inspiration for the 'Derby Days' print?

My inspiration for the Derby Days print is from my childhood. I remember the highlight of my year being when the Fair came to town. As you know, county and state fairs are more or less a carnival with all that implies. Particularly of note were the horse-racing games where you shoot the gun at a target and make the little horse go. Although I grew up with horses on the farm, it never occurred to me that people raced them until playing those games. So to see such a rich Derby culture here is revelatory and exciting! I was thrilled that Kentucky for Kentucky gave me the opportunity to create something that mixed my childhood notions of equine sports with the world's most famous race, The Kentucky Derby. I think there's a little of my childhood in just about every design I do. It keeps me young.


Anything else you think Kentuckians would like to know about you?

I'd like for Kentuckians to know that as a newcomer to their state, I feel a kinship already as you've been so welcoming. Thank you. And Kentucky does indeed Kick Ass!


Photos by Savanna Barnett

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