Painting Richmond’s portrait, one person at a time

For 15 years, Jennifer Holloway Bopst’s unique style has many Richmonders seeking out her abilities to immortalize a loved one. One of the city’s best kept secrets, the voice she gives her paintings is so vibrant and dynamic it’s made many see the value of owning one of her pieces.

Even though she doesn’t sign her paintings, you’ll know a Jennifer Holloway Bopst portrait when you see one. Painting for almost twenty years, Jennifer has been commissioned for the last fifteen. “I have always been fascinated by portraiture paintings,” said Jennifer. “Portraiture is something people always connect to.”

Jennifer began her studies at VCU for Painting & Printmaking in 1987. Back then, the School of the Arts did not have the financial resources that it does today. She recalls “painting in the [old Franklin Street] gym” among the athletes, because studio and class space were limited in those days.

Look through mugshots from the 1920’s showed her the “nature of how much there can be in a simple portrait.” She soon began applying this layered dynamism of portraiture to her paintings. She says that portraits give viewers several insights into the subject. The reason for not signing her paintings is that she doesn’t want her signature, not matter how diminutive, to detract from her subjects. She wants for them to “speak for themselves.” It seems many in Richmond are enamored with how Jennifer lets her subjects do the talking.

Typically, those who commission Jennifer to paint a portrait must wait six to eight weeks. “I like to have a few pieces going on at the same time,” she said. Not only will Jennifer take photos of the subject (or collect existing photos), but she will visit the home to scout where the future painting will hang. She does this to provide herself with aesthetic references before beginning the piece. And while she values and feeds off the insight that those close to her subjects can provide (personality, history, etc.), when it comes to the painting itself, Jennifer says the less control the clients have in dictating what the painting should be, the better the painting will be.

Jennifer said that it works best when she’s given free reign to explore the nuances of her subject. “That’s my ideal client.” She says that the ideal outcome is when, after the painting is up on the wall, the owner can glance at the portrait on two different days and experience two unique feelings. One of her favorite moments in the process is to unveil the final work. “It’s always exciting. Always fun to see people react.”

In addition to working as an artist, Jennifer is also the mother of a five-year-old daughter, one who seems to have inherited her mother’s artistic genes. “I’m not trying to push it on her…I don’t want to try to mold her,” she said before laughing. Not only does her daughter have some artistic genes, but she stands to inherit a bit of musical genetic code from her father.

Jennifer’s husband, Christ Bopst, was the founding bassist for the band GWAR, a columnist for the Richmond-Times Dispatch, and host of The Bopst Show on RVANews. To Jennifer, however, he’s a “proud daddy” and one of her principal advocates. “He’s probably one of my biggest supporters and fans,” she said. “He’s taught me to be a positive person.”

When asked why people still want painted portraits of loved ones in the age of abundant Instagrams, Facebooks, and emails, she said that a painting gives her clients a living, breathing keepsake.

“They’re getting something different.”


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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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