Chimel Ford shows us his latest Beyoncé and Jay-Z piece at StudioWorks. | Photo by Sara Havens

When the Louisville artist Chimel Ford got tapped to create the artwork for this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival poster, he allowed himself a moment of celebration, and then he got right to work.

He knew he wanted the pegasus to be front and center, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to depict the tangible spirit that falls upon the city during the three weeks leading up to the big race. And then he thought about the Pegasus Parade and all the energy and fun it provides.

The poster is bright and certainly energetic, with the pegasus trying to leap out of the frame and splashes of color to help show its momentum. And at the bottom are six figures with various instruments marching through the artwork — reminiscent of a New Orleans jazz band.

Chimel Ford’s KDF poster

Ford — who has autism and creates his art both at Zoom Group’s StudioWorks and at his own studio in his house — said he hopes to inspire others to do something they didn’t think was possible.

In the news release announcing him as this year’s artist, he said, “I wanted the painting to tell a story about how I see our city during the Kentucky Derby Festival. It’s colorful, a lot of fun and alive.”

After hearing about Ford’s work, organizers of the Kentucky Derby Festival sought him out and asked if he’d work up an image or two. After all, Ford has been creating art since his days at PRP High School, and he’s been coming to StudioWorks, which works with adults with developmental disabilities, a couple of times a week since 2010.

Ford often paints iconic images that lean toward the pop art persuasion — subjects like foods, snacks, drinks, restaurant logos and famous people.

“When I met Chimel, I was amazed at how exciting and fun his art is,” said Mike Berry, president and CEO of the Kentucky Derby Festival, in the news release. “‘Parade’ is a salute to our first event — the Pegasus Parade — and is reflective of this same energy that emanates from within each of us.”

Insider stopped by StudioWorks on Wednesday afternoon to meet Ford and ask him some very important questions (below). He was eager to show us his latest work, which included a scene from The Carters’ — that’s Beyoncé and Jay-Z — “Apesh#*t” video. It’ll be included in StudioWorks’ next exhibition, “Higher Love,” which opens Feb. 22.

Ford painted a scene from The Carters’ video.

Ford showed us a few new portraits of well-known people — a set featuring father and daughter Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole and a portrait of Col. Sanders as KFC is his favorite fast-food restaurant, he noted.

He also pulled out some proofs of early practice runs he did while trying to capture a pegasus in motion.

He told us he works full time as an artist and when not exhibiting through StudioWorks, he sells his paintings at various festivals around town including Old Louisville’s Spring Fest, the Louisville Supercon and many more.

Ford will be signing the 2019 Kentucky Derby Festival poster at the Festival Unveiled event on Thursday, March 14, at the Mellwood Art Center. Now through Feb. 17, you can also pre-order the poster at a 20 percent discount and with free shipping.

Now, without further delay, here are Ford’s answers to our very important questions …

What was your first concert?

Lauryn Hill (at the Iroquois Amphitheater in 2014).

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Art.

What job would you be terrible at?

The bathroom. Cleaning it and all that. No way!

Who can resist the Roadhouse rolls? | Courtesy of Texas Roadhouse

What is your favorite restaurant or bar?

Texas Roadhouse. I like the steaks, chicken tenders … and they have that cinnamon butter for the rolls.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once?

Paint art.

Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?

Fourth Street Live. I like it because it’s like a city, all inside. I like the food court, too.

What keeps you here?

Family and friends.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."