contemporary realism portrait painting
Richard Greathouse, "La Giovane Dottoressa," 2018, oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 19 1/2 in., available through the artist

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

Richard Greathouse (b. 1986) was fortunate to be able to devote nearly a decade of his life to intense, focused art training in his 20s. After a brief stint at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, he traveled to Italy to study drawing, painting, sculpture, and anatomy at the Florence Academy of Art (FAA) for four years. He then cemented that training by translating it to others as the academy’s principal instructor of painting and écorché for an additional four years.

When the FAA opened a U.S. branch in Jersey City in 2015, he was asked to become its first principal instructor of drawing and painting, and also director of anatomy. He spent two years in that role while maintaining an on-site studio where he furthered his own education and explorations through hours of practice and application. He returned to Florence from 2016 to 2019 to serve as director of the anatomy program.

Now settled back in his hometown of Nashville, Greathouse has the foundational tools and life experience to paint in the manner that speaks to him most. His subjects are not unlike what he was drawn to in Florence — classical portraits and figures, situated in allegorical or otherworldly settings, often with symbolic objects or gestures to help tell the story.

The style is a matured version of what he has always been drawn to: an indirect method whereby many layers of oil paint are applied over multiple sessions. “The indirect method allows me to create a sense of depth and richness through varying degrees of opacities and translucencies of built-up color,” Greathouse explains. “I also enjoy the unpredictability of this technique, which often rewards risk-taking with ‘happy accidents.’ Because every passage behaves a bit differently, the indirect method allows me to incorporate an aspect of chaos into my otherwise orderly work.”

The artist also finds creative joy in the process of painting itself, the tactile quality of paint, the materials, and the journey that each new piece takes him on. “La Giovane Dottoressa,” a portrait of a young Italian woman poised to receive her doctorate in psychology, is an example of a piece that progressed in real-time.

“This painting depicts a young woman bearing great promise for the future, both for herself and for the world around her,” Greathouse shares. “What began as a solemn, simple portrait evolved into a more hopeful and forthright painting. It is both a documentation of the occasion and a token of good wishes, celebrating her achievement — along with the achievements of all others who seek the betterment of society through diligence and careful study.”

Greathouse is spending his time these days fielding a steady stream of commissions while adapting to his new role as a first-time father alongside his wife, the artist Marty Welsh. With a head and heart full of ideas, he is looking forward to exploring new directions, as well as returning to the familiar role of teacher.

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, which covers everything from historical representational art to contemporary realism.

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