A Painter at Bat

Photos by Sarah Davis Photography/Courtesy Photos

By Mariah Kline  |  Arts & Entertainment

Every athlete dreams of having a professional career and every artist dreams of having their work hang in a place of prominence. One Louisville native has had the chance to achieve both of these dreams. Richard Sullivan pitched for the Atlanta Braves minor league team for five years, and upon leaving baseball, began working as a professional artist. Now that he’s returned to the 502, we paid a visit to his Portland studio and learned all about his latest project.

Sullivan grew up in Louisville and attended Ballard High School, where he pursued both baseball and art classes. After graduating, he began playing for Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). While not every art school has a baseball team and the athletic program at SCAD no longer exists, Sullivan was fortunate in that he was able to pursue both of his passions at one institution.

“My time at SCAD was really special to me,” he says. “Meeting creative people who were also athletes and had similar interests to me was great. I felt more creative around them and tried to learn from them as much as possible.”

Sullivan was drafted by the Atlanta Braves before he could finish his degree, but he returned in 2014 after leaving baseball and finished his final year at SCAD. During this time, he was able to explore different mediums and decided to pursue watercolor painting because it was both challenging and rewarding.

Over the last few years, Sullivan has had his work featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s permanent collection and in the pages of Forbes, the Washington Post and other national publications. Most recently, he produced a series of 20 pieces that now hang in the Braves’ newly opened SunTrust Stadium. This series includes depictions of Braves legends Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and more. The significance of this accomplishment is two-fold for Sullivan since this series was his first major project as a full-time artist and he has such a strong connection with the team.

“The Braves project has been a dream come true,” he reveals. “I’m so grateful to be part of that family again given the history and relationship we had before. And knowing how important the new stadium is and them having the trust in me to create something for it is amazing.”

Since his paintings for the Braves have been completed, Sullivan looks forward to creating for other large venues and stadiums in the future. He continues to sell prints of his paintings and do commissions for interested buyers. What better gift for a father or sports enthusiast than an original work by a local athlete turned artist?

Now that he’s back in Louisville, he also wants to continue working on equestrian art. Sullivan has already taken a great step in this direction with his painting “Charismatic and Field,” which was commissioned for this year’s Kentucky Derby Fan Fest poster. The print hung in the Derby Museum during this year’s festivities, giving Louisvillians a first-hand look at what one of their own has accomplished.

“I always kept my eye on Louisville while I was away,” he explains. “I watched Portland grow so much and I wanted to be part of something here that was growing and get in on the ground level.”

And indeed he did. Sullivan was one of the first to move into his studio in the Dolfinger building, formerly known as the Compassion Building, now home to a number of charities and other artists.

While baseball was always at the forefront of Sullivan’s mind, art was never forgotten for long. Even during his time in the pros, he would spend his free time sketching and was fortunate to have his skills still ready to be applied after leaving baseball behind.

“It wasn’t an easy transition since baseball has always been a part of my life,” he says. “But having art made it less difficult because I knew this was what I wanted to do next, and I’m excited to be able to pursue it full time now.”  VT