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    Photos by Chris Witzke

    It’d be easy to say that Richard Sullivan looks like a living Greek statue, only taller, stronger in the jaw and blond. But that would lack vision, something Sullivan has in abundance; in his studio in the old Portland Christian School — which developer Gill Holland bought and repurposed in 2013 — Sullivan opens a drawer full of canvases bursting with color and muscle. In Sullivan’s eyes, peak physical form isn’t restrained to marble; he paints some of the strongest people in the world with watercolors. 

    Jim Thome in shades a flower would kill for. The conflagration of an Ali punch, not quite larger than life on a 40-by-60- inch frame. Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, LeBron. “Watercolor lends itself to sport,” the Ballard High alum says. “Colors, action — it’s very hard to get that energy in oil paints.” Sullivan works almost surgically on faces, every wrinkle and rhyme of their expressions perfect. Part practicality, part mystery: Sullivan wants you to know who his subjects are, and there’s just something about a face. But he paints athletes’ bodies into abstraction, a splash of blue on a shoulder following through on a swing. Blue-orange earth erupts around Derby hooves.

    Sullivan has always associated art and sport. He went to art school on a baseball scholarship and ended up leaving in his junior year to pitch in the farm system for the Atlanta Braves. He’d paint a couple of hours at night when he could, and eventually went back to art school. At first, he could feel the memory of the diamond in the shapes he made, the ripple of his arm as he pitched, as he painted. But muscle memory fades, and now the 29-year-old spends more time at the easel than on the mound. He misses it. In the painting, Yogi Berra can’t miss it. He squints like a man sure of his skill, unperturbed by the liquid ground around him. Bryce Harper — in a painting that ran in the Washington Post — looks up, angelic, the red explosion of his hit still fading over his shoulder. Nolan Ryan whips back to make a pitch, just as Sullivan has so many times, the shade from his cap obscuring one eye, frozen just before he throws the ball across the blue and yellow backdrop of dreams.

    This originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    All images courtesy of Richard Sullivan

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    About Dylon Jones

    Dylon Jones is an award-winning poet and essayist based in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as web editor of Louisville Magazine.

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