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June 2012
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Artist merges love for baseball and painting

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

In the quiet refuge of his Louisville art studio, Richard Sullivan remembers the thrill of baseball.

The Jefferson County native recalls a childhood enriched by the sport, culminating in five seasons in the Atlanta Braves minor league system.

Today, the past athlete's inspiration is made clear in many of his watercolor paintings. They are portraits of split-second, competitive moments, frozen in time.

"I obviously have a subject, and that's helped a lot," Sullivan said. "It's helped the past few years after retiring and not having baseball in my life. That's why I (began) painting -- to keep that connection going."

Among his achievements, he has artwork in the Louisville Sluggers Museum and the National Baseball Hall of Fame's permanent collection.

But it's all "a series of small wins" for the 29-year-old, who defines his greatest success as finding his niche.

His love of baseball and painting began to merge when he was accepted into the Savannah College of Art and Design and its baseball program.

Prior to that, his love of art dates back to elementary school and his Little League days. It was after retiring from professional baseball in 2013 that he returned to Savannah College to get his degree and pursue painting full-time.

"I think my past has influenced my future," he said.

"It's how I grew up -- my time spent with baseball -- so it definitely started there."

One recent watercolor, "Kentucky Derby," depicts a line of jockeys racing horses neck-to-neck.

Carried from the memories of a Louisville childhood, Sullivan said it shows the respect he carries for any athletic performer -- and a love for capturing their moments on canvas.

"My mom took me to the Kentucky Oaks when I was younger. When I watch horse racing, it brings back competing and playing," he said.

A fine-tuned focus accompanies Sullivan's nostalgia, and he pursues his career with a bottom-of-the-ninth attitude that has served him well.

His fervor has gained him national recognition and clients such as Coca-Cola and The Washington Post, which commissioned him in 2015 to paint Nationals' All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper.

Sometimes Sullivan finds moments of clarity in self-reflection, but introspection can also be isolating, he admitted. After retiring from baseball, he sits in his studio and paints windows into a world he's no longer part of.

Last spring after "bouncing around" for 10 years, he returned from Boston to Louisville's Portland neighborhood, which has experienced an artistic and cultural revitalization in recent years.

So far, he said it's a community reminding him of connections forged at art school and the minor leagues.

With painting now the center in life, Sullivan knows he will always feel an occasional pang of baseball nostalgia.

"Around this time (of year) it's always pretty hard, when spring training rolls around," he said. "But I'm at peace with it."

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