With the Kentucky Derby almost here, I knew the timing was perfect for me to catch up with artist Kathy Sullivan, whose paintings adorn the walls of Churchill Downs. Her latest work, “The 138,” pays homage to the Kentucky Derby. I spoke with her to find out what inspires her work.
Lori Kommor: The majority of your art is influenced by the equine industry. Where does your inspiration come form?
Kathy Sullivan: I was a really passionate horseback rider for years. When my horse died in 2002, I was so heartbroken that I guess I took up painting as a form of expression for my grief. My education is in Expressive Therapy, so the natural outlet for my pain would understandably be creative in some sense.
LK: Your art adorns the walls of the most prestigious horse track in the country. Was that a dream come true for you to have your art at Churchill Downs?
KS: My art career took off so quickly that I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of that achievement until years after the fact. Churchill Downs and its beautiful cast of characters have provided me with an odd sense of belonging. Whether I’m visiting the backside, the paddock, or Millionaire’s Row, I feel like I have returned home.
LK: You have an exhibit at Revelry Gallery, “The 138.” Share with me the significance of this show?
KS: This has been a huge undertaking for me on many different levels: emotionally, physically, and creatively. Mo and Paula at Revelry were uber-supportive in allowing me to step out of my normal box and take some risks. “The 138” is 138, 6” x 8” paintings of all of the Derby winners’ silks from 1875 to the yet-to-be-determined 2012 winner. … People have been purchasing different years to represent their children’s birth years, or 10 years of marriage or personally significant dates. I had an idea of how I wanted this installation to look but the final result far exceeded my initial vision.
LK: I stopped by Revelry Gallery to see your video installation piece “Full Circle.” I know you are emotionally tied to this piece; will you share your story?
KS: This is a very involved story so I will try to shorten it. In 2008, I was scheduled to move to South Carolina two days after the Kentucky Derby. Since this was supposedly the last Derby I was going to attend as a Kentucky resident, I wanted to ideally experience the race, which involved wearing jeans on the backside with my closest friends – something I had always wanted to do. A very respected and adored trainer-friend of mine arranged to have me walk on the track during the actual Kentucky Derby race! The trainer I was supposed to accompany was Larry Jones and the brilliant filly we were accompanying was the gorgeous and talented, Eight Belles. I had promised myself to just breathe in the experience and not record anything, but the thrill and energy of the walk got the best of me. … I took out my junky cellphone, held it at my waist, and recorded our walk.
The rest is history. … I was two weeks pregnant during this walk. I moved from Kentucky two days later. The video installation has my son singing “My Old Kentucky Home” over the manipulated video footage taken from my cellphone. I am so proud of this video! It is quite literally-my baby.
LK: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
KS: That’s an easy one. My son is my greatest achievement. He is a gift straight from God and someone I completely cherish. Even when things are difficult, I can look at this beautiful little boy’s face and the worry just disappears. I am such a lucky person to have him in my life.