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Kentucky to the Core

By Maggie Kimberl |

An affinity for all things Kentucky helped a Louisville artist interpret Hunter S. Thompson's famous magazine article, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," in visual form.

"I never imagined I would be able to do something with the Derby that had my name on it," says Louisville artist Rachael Sinclair. "I think of the Kentucky Derby as a visual smorgasbord," she says. "The hats, the dresses, the horses themselves. There's so much to look at."

Among other original works she's created for Kentucky for Kentucky, Sinclair is the designer and illustrator behind "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," a limited-edition art print based on the famous 1970 magazine article of the same name by Louisville native Hunter S. Thompson. The fourth edition of the popular print, each signed by the artist, will release at 10 a.m. Friday, April 22, on the website.




Sinclair has always wanted to create a Derby-themed print, she says, but in a way that was completely different from anything that had already been done. After sketching a few ideas, she printed out Thompson's article and went through it with a highlighter, looking for key themes she could illustrate as jockey silks.


"I immersed myself in the time period," she says, drawing from the color palette of the 1960s and early '70s and researching textiles and patterns from that time. The result is a classically styled print that evokes the era, but with details that capture the gonzo vibe of the article with names like "Colt .45," "Staggering Drunk" and "Acid Trip."


Sinclair studied graphic design at Brescia University, a small Catholic college in Owensboro, where she had also taken piano lessons from nuns as a child. After starting out in the studio arts, she says, "I found out I liked graphic design a lot, but I didn't know there was a word for it. I've always liked advertising."


She briefly thought about attending film school in Australia, but realized how much she loved Kentucky when she began to consider leaving it behind. Much of her art is influenced by her life in and her love for Kentucky, although the look and feel of each piece is driven by its subject matter. No two are the same.




"I work in a lot of styles. I don't really pick one. It's whatever the art tells me," say Sinclair.


Along with art and design, Sinclair loves all things Kentucky and all things Derby.


"It's an amazing cultural thing for Kentucky – no one can do it like we do," she says.


Her love of Kentucky also extends to bourbon. "I have to be in a mood," she says. "I like to bake with it. I like to cook with it. I like to make my own Juleps. I like to make a certain type of pie that I can't say the name of."

I love Kentucky in general — not just bourbon and horses — and I'm very protective of it.

She's also keenly aware of the stereotypes and preconceptions some people have about Kentucky, and is quick to tout the many attributes of her home state.


"I love Kentucky in general — not just bourbon and horses — and I'm very protective of it," she says. "It seems like every time we're in the news it's for something negative and I have to tell people that's not us."


She wipes her eyes and laughs, "even though I do have allergies."


Purchase a signed, fourth-edition copy of Rachael Sinclair's  "Decadent and Depraved" print beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, April 22, in the shop.


See more of Rachael Sinclair's work on her website. 


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