It was once Richard Sullivan’s dream to be among the first players on the field when SunTrust Park opened as the new home of the Atlanta Braves in 2017. Instead, the stadium is the home of his most important work as an artist, featuring 18 paintings he created in his Portland studio.
Sullivan grew up playing baseball around his St. Matthews home, and the left-handed pitcher attracted the attention of college scouts, leading to a scholarship to play at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In his junior year, the Braves drafted him and sent him to the minor leagues.
Unfortunately, the Braves released him after six years in the minors. Despite never making it to “The Show,” Sullivan forged some important friendships within the organization. So, after going back to complete the final year for his degree in Savannah, Sullivan spent time developing a style for his art and “pitched” his old team on his new work that honored the team’s history.
One of those people happened to be Jonathan Schuerholz, a former coach whose father was the team president.
“We had become friends when I was playing, and once I started painting I started reaching out to him. A few years went by and I found out they were building a new stadium,” Sullivan says. “I thought, wow, that would be a cool opportunity. So I molded my work and started painting larger. I developed my watercolor style. I had everything in place, but I just needed an opportunity for them to see my work. Eventually I got an interview.”
This is not a story of overnight success: Sullivan, who was living in Boston at the time, had to wait two years, until 2017, to finalize the commission with the Braves for the stadium pieces. In that time, he found some small victories with sales of baseball paintings, but knew he needed studio space with lower rent to build his career.
“I started looking back home,” he says, and that’s when he learned about the Dolfinger Building being renovated in Portland. “I remember the first day I was in here – the lighting was beautiful. You could tell it was a beautiful old building, but it needed a lot of work. These big, beautiful windows, I could tell that this was it.”
Sullivan became the first to move in, and today the building is home to a number of nonprofit groups and fellow artists. And Sullivan has discovered more than just a studio – he has become an anchor in a community that he’s learned to love.
“I grew up in St. Matthews, so Portland was a new thing to me,” he says. “I didn’t honestly know because I wasn’t in the West End a lot, and didn’t know a lot of the struggles that had been going on here until my adult life. I’m fortunate to be aware of it now and part of this community.”
More than a year after his paintings were placed in SunTrust Park, Sullivan now spends every day at his studio, balancing the business demands of selling his art to potential clients with time spent painting. He’s currently creating a work featuring Triple Crown winner Justify, and has completed projects ranging from U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson to boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He says he’s interested in expanding beyond sports, and is experimenting with acrylics and oil paintings. (His work is available for viewing online at http://richardsullivanillustration.com/.)
But it all revolves around a neighborhood where he’s found a home, and where he’s welcoming an increasingly eclectic group of neighbors.
“Ever since I moved in here it’s changed my life,” he says. “My friend group is in Portland, and the people I know, I go to The Table, Cup of Joy, and I’m a regular customer there. I love seeing the people and seeing how different it is from our perception. It’s a community. It’s got the most energy in Louisville.”