Every day, hundreds of people around the world, including many celebrities, wear a permanent piece of artwork made by Christchurch man, Richard Greenlees.
And no, it’s not a piece of jewellery, clothing item or a tattoo.
Richard makes beautiful bespoke teeth, and during the 15 years he practiced in London’s prestigious Harley Street, he was in hot demand from many high profile people wanting a sparkling new smile.
‘I made teeth for all sorts of people, from Page 3 models and East End barrow boys done good, to politicians, arms dealers who brought their bodyguards to the treatments, famous golfers, Formula 1 racing syndicate owners, Arab Sheikhs, and many high profile musicians and actors. It was an interesting and exciting stage of my career.’
He remembers one day in London waiting for a patient named Mr Watts, who was an hour and a half late for his appointment.
‘I didn’t think he was coming, so I put a CD on the stereo and was doing a bit of a dance at my bench. I turned around and there was Mr Watts, standing in the corner of my studio, the drummer of one of the biggest bands on the planet.’
Richard says it took a while to be accepted by the medical elite he practiced alongside in Harley Street.
‘They used to call me the Cave Man from New Zealand because of my long hair and relaxed Kiwi attitude. I would ride to work on my mountain bike and park it in my studio during the day. After a while my work earned their respect, and they stopped worrying about what I looked like.’
While Richard looks back fondly on his glittering London days, when he also dabbled in sculpture and even landed a part in a British feature film, these days his passion is creating beautiful bespoke dentures for patients back home in New Zealand, from his Christchurch studio, Lovebite.
His dentures are also like artworks, with each tooth individually crafted with colouring and small nuances to match his patients’ individuality and character.
‘I work one-on-one with patients to create a smile which allows them to feel like themselves again. My dentures also provide the correct support and structure, giving my patients a more youthful appearance.’
To achieve these results, Richard has created world-leading techniques, not found in textbooks, which are now recognised internationally. He is regularly asked to lecture worldwide, and, in April this year, was the keynote speaker at the international DTG (Dental Technicians Guild) Symposium in Frankfurt, where he demonstrated his unique methods on a Christchurch patient, flown to Germany by the event organisers.
Richard’s distinctive character often comes out during his lectures. In Frankfurt he danced onstage to a Bruce Springsteen song, No Surrender, which was live-streamed online and had several thousand views within 24 hours.
Richard says art is in his blood after growing up with an artist mother, and it remains an intrinsic part of his daily life. In addition to making dentures, he paints, sculpts and has a talent for interior design.
‘Every day in my business I am fortunate to create art which not only gives me a great deal of satisfaction, but also helps people to eat better, live better and look better. Helping people to feel confident and good about themselves is a great feeling.’
WORDS & PHOTO Jo Bailey