Primary colors

Crestwood artist Whittle
creates 2005 Ky. Derby poster

His previous two posters were top sellers

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (March 2005) – He’s done it again. For the third time in 20 years, Crestwood artist Sonny Whittle has created a piece of artwork for the Kentucky Derby Festival Official Poster Series.


Photos by Ky. Derby photographer Jonathan Roberts

Sonny Whittle poses with his new winning
2005 Kentucky Derby poster.

Whittle, 70, said his poster depicts a three-dimensional sculptural image representative of a futuristic Pegasus against Louisville’s night sky. “The art image is pretty modern,” said Whittle, who also referred to it as having an art-deco style.
The poster is colorful, and Whittle said he had in mind the nighttime sky of Thunder Over Louisville when he created the image. He wants viewers to be able to get “the feel of it,” he said.
Whittle said he felt the urge to do this poster and suggested it to Derby officials. Artists’ works are generally selected from a submission process, and a committee grants a sanction for an artist to create the poster.
“They were very receptive,” Whittle said of Derby officials. “It’s my 50th year as an artist,” he said. This year also marks the 50th celebration year of the Derby Festival.
On Jan. 27, Whittle’s poster highlighted the 25th annual Poster Premiere event. A reunion of a dozen past artists was held at the Kentucky International Convention Center to unveil Whittle’s 2005 poster.
Artist Peter Max designed the expressionistic “Bluegrass Pegasus” poster and launched the series in 1981. The quality of the Poster Series has been recognized worldwide.
In 1985, Whittle combined creative talents with his nephew, Mark Bird, to produce a poster. At the time, they were in the architectural illustration business together.
For 15 years, they reproduced posters of local architectural subjects and gave marketing presentations, said Bird, vice president of Architectural Marketing for Power Creative Inc. He said his uncle is “very talented. He has a wonderful ability to capture the spirit of the moment.”


Photos by Ky. Derby photographer Jonathan Roberts

Derby enthusiasts line up to buy a
signed 2005 Kentucky Derby poster
created by artist Sonny Whittle.

As with all Derby posters, Whittle and Bird’s design was composed of the thematic ideas of springtime. It was designed as a paper sculpture of a Pegasus horse, behind which was a drawing of Derby Festival events. It was produced in springtime palettes, said Bird.
Whittle’s previous poster designs are among the top sellers in the history of the Poster Series. He jokingly said this is because “people like them!” But on a more serious note, Whittle said that the popularity of the posters had to do with timing and color. Pastel colors were the fad when the 1985 poster was created. “It fit well into people’s homes,” he said.
Public preference has since gone from pastels into primary, or dark, colors. The 2005 poster depicts a palette of deep, rich, jewel tone colors, said Whittle. The look of polished metal, such as chrome, is also currently popular. “Art needs to fit the period,” he said.
He believes his poster design is “an example of what you can do without a computer when you put your mind to it.” The only graphics used was an original photograph of his work converted into the poster.
Whittle has also spent years as a fine art screen printer. He left this business when the solvents he used became too toxic for his health. His art took a new direction as he ventured into architectural illustration.
The poster coincided with some new projects he had taken on, and he solidified them. He missed creating fine art and has recently created a selection of houses based on the concept of stylish, turn-of-the-century homes. Whittle called this creative phase of his life, “late-stage art.”


Photos by Ky. Derby photographer Jonathan Roberts

Whittle meeting the press.

When he walks into a store or turns on the TV and sees his Derby poster image, Whittle said it makes him feel good. “It’s re-assuring when the public accepts an artist,” he said. The Derby posters foster community interest through representation of the image of a local town.
Whittle doesn’t think he’ll create another Derby poster. He doesn’t want to be selfish, but wants other artists to have a chance at the Poster Series. He takes the stance that it’s important for younger artists to have a standard model to go by, to do as well or better with their artwork. It’s been 20 years since Whittle said he wondered if he’d be good enough to have his work accepted by Derby officials. He said he would like to see a younger generation pursue art without relying on digital images and hi-tech equipment. This native Louisvillian has progressed his career through a natural talent, his creative mind and a literal “hands-on” approach to art.

• For more information on the poster and the Kentucky Derby Festival events, visit: www.kdf.org.

Back to March 2005 Articles.



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