After less than three years as a full-time artist, this Kentucky muralist has already made his mark on Lexington
Lexington artist Wylie Caudill has one of the best studio spaces an artist can imagine – the great outdoors. Noted for a whimsical style characterized by lots of colors and textures, the mural artist is often found at the top of an elevator working on a new “canvas” that can go from a 30 foot side of a building to a wall. of residential support. (He also does interior work for businesses and individuals.) At 25, Caudill has been working as a full-time artist for less than three years, but has already left his mark on Lexington, with murals adorning the walls. from several local business personalities, including Soundbar, Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream from the Distillery District and the Kentucky for Kentucky / Kentucky Fun Mall warehouse on Loudon Avenue.
However, few places in Lexington showcase the transformative power that a large-scale mural can have on a space more efficiently than The Grove’s multi-business concept downtown courtyard. Located at the corner of Main and Upper Streets, the space has recently been transformed into a lush urban oasis, thanks in large part to an impressive three-story wall installation by Caudill. Leaving the busy street and entering the courtyard through the entrance to the Upper Street garden is to be transported to a different world. Tables, chairs, potted plants, and twinkling lights dot the intimate outdoor space, which is flanked on one side by a massive mural that encapsulates the feeling of being entangled in a grove of trees in a forest magical fairy tale.
Owner Avena Kiely explained that she always wanted a mural in the space to help unite the various businesses that make up The Grove, which includes a wine and cocktail bar, beer garden, food truck. and a charcuterie business.
âWhen we were introduced to Wylie we knew he would find something wonderful,â she said. “He knew we wanted something whimsical that would bring every business into the picture.”
To that end, the large moon in the mural is a nod to Luna, the vintage Airstream food truck that remains parked permanently in The Grove’s yard. A fox and a raven represent the characters of Aesop’s Fables, in homage to The Grove’s wine and charcuterie business, Fable. As for Harvey’s, the longtime bar that serves as the anchor for The Grove, the Rabbit represents the bar’s cinematic namesake – the 1950 movie âHarveyâ, which stars Jimmy Stewart and focuses on the bar. friendship between his character and an invisible six. one foot tall rabbit named Harvey.
âI can’t imagine The Grove’s outdoor garden without the mural now,â said Kiely, who added that people stop all day, even outside office hours, to watch or take in. pictures. “He really added magic to our downtown space.”
Liza Betz, owner of neighboring Failte Irish Imports, commented on how the mural has lit up the neighborhood.
âIt was so exciting to see Wylie create the mural,â she said. “I like to watch it every day.”
Originally from Cynthiana, Caudill comes from a line of artists, including a grandmother who was a portrait and landscape painter and other relatives who are quilters, musicians and actors. But despite this family background and even his own talent for drawing, revealed from an early age, he says he initially resisted following an artistic path.
âI’m a bit of a rebel,â he laughed. “I kind of denied the art for a while and wanted to go in a different direction.” Caudill studied broadcasting and electronic media at Eastern Kentucky University, but soon realized he was not keen on the field. After working on the sets for several films that were shot in Kentucky, he briefly considered a career in film, but reconsidered after realizing the limits of related opportunities in Kentucky.
âArt kept coming back into my life,â he explained. On a lark, Caudill began to draw chalk drawings around campus. Even if it is not always well received by the administration, its work is greatly appreciated by the students. He started tagging his drawings on Instagram and his followers quickly grew from a few hundred to thousands. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his vocation as a muralist was revealed.
After graduating, Caudill began working for Kentucky for Kentucky, a local company that creates often naughty Kentucky-themed merchandise and is known for coining the tagline âKentucky Kicks Assâ. A 2019 assignment saw him paint a rainbow mural outside the company’s warehouse, and when the company was contacted by the owner of the Frankfort-based restaurant The Stave, who was looking for a Kentucky Kicks Ass mural for their restaurant, the company knew who to send to.
Caudill loved this project so much that he knew he wanted to do more.
âI posted stuff on my Instagram, and it took off quickly,â he said, adding, âI can’t credit social media enough for how quickly people took notice of my work. . ” Inquiries poured in and her phone started to vibrate.
Caudill says that while his parents have always encouraged his creativity, they initially feared he would make the leap as a full-time artist. Caudill’s father, who works in the financial industry, felt compelled to offer some practical advice.
âMy dad put together a budget outlining what it would take to cover all the necessities,â Caudill said. “I think he was trying to stress that it wouldn’t be a good idea to quit my job, but I hit those financial goals in the first year.”
He added, âI just wanted to pay my bills and be able to eat, but it has become a sustained career that I love. It’s incredible.”
And Caudill shows no sign of slowing down. If you follow his Instagram or his popular TikTok, you can watch him do magic across central Kentucky – on a ladder, brush in hand, doing magic for now and for generations to come.
Lexington mural artist Wylie Caudill recently took the time to answer a few questions from Smiley Pete writer Celeste Lewis.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist? In 2019, when I realized I could start paying the bills with my talent. It was a little scary to quit my job and make the jump to be a full-time artist, but I have no regrets.
When did you start working on a large scale and making murals? I started doing chalk art in college around 2015. By the end of 2019, I had made my first large-scale mural with paint, and I was hooked.
What challenges do you face as a mural artist? Each mural is a new challenge, from the locations to the weather to the content I paint. I will never stop having issues, but I guess that’s what makes it interesting.
Is there a dream project that you haven’t yet taken on? Something out of state! Traveling would really add a new layer to the experience!
What’s the one thing in your job that you can’t live without? Color! I really like the color. I would never describe myself as subtle.
Tell me about your process. Break it down for us a bit. I start with the location. How is the wall formed; how do i orient the artwork so that it best fits the wall? Then I usually start designing on my iPad. I draw things on top of a photo on the wall on an app called Procreate. Then I start to paint. I prefer to give free rein to whatever I can. The grid technique is the most useful. I definitely prefer brush painting to spray painting, but sometimes I use both. My style allows me not to have to project a lot [a technique used by many mural artists to project the image on the wall and trace and paint it]. I like to go straight to the wall and go there.
What inspires you? Where do you find ideas? It’s vague, but, the Internet. I am mostly inspired by the things I see online. I am drawn to a wide range of images, from Renaissance art to video game animation. I also get a lot of inspiration from my clients. People have usually thought about a mural, and it’s fun to partner with their vision and work out the details.
What is the best comment you have received on your work? The compliments that mean the most to me are the ones I accidentally hear. The things people say when they think I can’t hear are the most genuine. So when they’re good, it feels good.
What do you hope people get out of your job? I want it to be simple. I want it to make people happy and maybe a little surprised. It’s an experience. I hope they approach art and say âwow! “
Are there other art forms that you like? I really like the acting and the scenography. I love Shakespeare and perform every summer at the Appalachian Shakespeare Center in EKU. I was able to appear in all the productions they did. I watch local productions that look fun, and audition here and there.
Do you have a favorite place in Lexington? Broom cart.
Lexington has become a wall city. What role do you think the arts play in Lexington’s future? That’s a big question, and I think the only answer I have is that it’s our job as artists to keep creating and giving back to the community for as long as the community has us. Lexington has welcomed public art with open arms, and I hope that will continue.
Who are some of your favorite artists? I follow many wall artists. Kalulfart is a favorite. I also really like Kelsey Montague, one of the first interactive wall artists. His wing murals are very interesting public art.
How important are social networks for artists? Which social media platforms work best for you? It is by far the most valuable platform for connecting with new customers and for people to find me and see what I do. I thank Instagram for how I have been able to grow so quickly in two years.
What’s the next step for you? I am working on painting a room in my house, from top to bottom. The whole room will be painted. This is the first time that I have painted something 100%. In addition, I have a big and exciting project coming up at The Greyline. I do several murals both interior and exterior. Stay tuned for it!