The Paynter mural outside WinStar Farm's stallion complex (Photo courtesy of WinStar Farm's Twitter feed)
Call it thinking outside the box. When Paynter - the courageous, wildly popular colt who defied death more than once - was retired to Winstar Farm shortly after his final race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Lexington, Ky. farm was looking for a unique approach to promote their newest stallion.
Enter Braylyn Stewart. WinStar CEO and racing manager Elliott Walden commissioned the Louisville artist to paint a graffiti-style mural (20-feet by 7-feet) dedicated to the horse whom Walden tagged “a street fighter with an awesome heart.”
A resident of Louisville, Stewart is known for his distinctive blend of graffiti and traditional painting style. When he turned up on the lawn adjacent to WinStar’s new stallion complex and breeding shed on Nov. 10, Stewart unzipped a duffle bag full of aerosol cans and got to work on the mammoth canvas.
“Knowing Paynter’s story there was a lot of emotion that day,” Stewart explains. “When they brought him out while I was painting I was impressed by how he carries himself, loads of confidence. Working in the moment, his presence was a big part in the design of the mural. And, he was definitely into the painting. When they would take him back to the barn he would act up trying to get back to see what I was doing. For me knowing what a talented racehorse he was and how tough he was, it was kind of like meeting Michael Jordan. It was a thrill and a real honor.”
Stewart was located by Jon Siegel when PM Advertising put out an APB on Facebook looking for a street artist.
“Braylyn’s style was exactly what we were after,” observes Siegel, co-owner of PM Advertising. “When we met he showed a lot of excitement about racehorses saying he was a big fan of the Derby. We gave him the creative freedom and put our trust in him, and he delivered.”
”He was excited about being here working on this project,” Walden adds. “He has the passion for what he's doing, just like we have a passion out here at WinStar for what we're doing."
Stewart was asked to incorporate a number of taglines throughout the mural. There is Bob Baffert’s well-known quote: “he’s the toughest horse I’ve ever seen.” Paynter’s impressive speed figures—114, 107, 106 and 108. Others include “Haskell,” saluting his 2012 Grade 1 victory. “Our First Round Draft Pick” and “Awesome Heart” grab your eye.
“We brought Paynter out to stand next to the mural with the wind whipping all around and the horse didn’t flinch,” Siegel recounts. “It was pretty impressive bringing him up to this 20-foot painting in a brand new environment. He handled it like a champ.
“I think the painting showcases how this horse beat the odds, demonstrates his will to live and the way he came back to compete at the highest level of racing,” Siegel notes. “I love how Braylyn incorporated the abstract heart in the background.”
Passion and determination are Paynter’s calling cards. So was being an ornery and stubborn racehorse, but that’s part of his beauty. Two days after his 2012 Haskell Invitational victory, the son of Awesome Again first showed signs of illness. Over the next two months he waged near-death battles with colitis, laminitis, a swelling of the large intestines, and a persistent fever. That summer and fall his weight plummeted from 1,100 pounds to the low 900 range. Not only did he survive, Paynter lived to race again.
Right on cue with the storybook nature of his tale, 4-year old Paynter returned to the racetrack in mid-June and scored an emphatic victory in his comeback race at Hollywood Park in a seven-furlong allowance race. Leading throughout, he pulled away from seven overmatched rivals to win by five lengths in 1:21.86, earning a 114 Beyer speed figure. He also finished a close second in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap this season. His racing career ended after a seventh-place finish in the Classic. Paynter will stand his first year at stud for a $25,000 fee.
Does Stewart see a bit of himself in WinStar’s newest stallion?
“I’m a big fighter, too,” Stewart, 29, responds. “I wasn’t able to afford to go to a good art school. But, with my drive and charisma I’ve gained some success that I’m very proud of. Paynter gave it his all, against some very tough odds. I like to think I have the same trait.”
Stewart credits the street-energy of Louisville, his adopted city, for developing his blend of graffiti and traditional painting. It all started when his military family was living in Germany and the Berlin Wall crashed down. Stewart, then age 4, was given “puzzle pieces” of the wall that had been spray-painted with graffiti from his stepfather. When the family moved back to the U. S., Stewart encountered New York graffiti artist Sen One, who gave him his first aerosol can of paint at a skate-park event. Stewart says his biggest influence has been Bronx graffiti artist Cope2 who has gained international acclaim for his work. Via Facebook, Cope2 sent Stewart high marks on the Paynter mural.
Stewart began painting murals in 2004 and has been a featured artist at many Louisville festivals and art galleries. Last year he was invited to paint the entrance to the landmark Speed Art Museum, including the glass walls and a portion of the sidewalk on the campus side of the museum.
Stewart calls himself a self-titled aerosol muralist. He hopes the Paynter mural will teach young kids the positive aspects of graffiti artworks as well as inspiring them to get involved with the arts.
“I wanted the background to be alive,” Stewart explains. “When I started laying down all the colors I strategically planned the splatters, the shading and the sharp lines versus the background which adds another layer to the painting. It draws you in, and that’s exactly what Paynter does.”
Currently at the farm, WinStar hasn't yet decided where to display the mural. There has been some speculation that it could wind up at the city’s airport.
"This is a little different with the Paynter ad campaign," Walden says. "I think it will get people talking which is always good."