The 10″ Snow Storm in October

2011 November 13
by Lorna

One has to be a very healthy, strong person to ‘just hold tight’ while listening to branches crashing onto the side of the house, then thumping heavily onto the earth, one branch after the other, not knowing if a window would be hit or the side of the house opened to the cold wind, or when the last branch would hit what. A weighty wet snowfall stuck to the leaves in the trees that had not yet fallen, until the branches could not hold the weight. Autumn came late this year and the snowstorm early. My 3 month old kitten Ruby kept 1/8th of my body warm, and me all of hers, under a folded down blanket. The entire neighborhood was dark, not a sound could be heard. At sunrise, so happy for light, I learned that it was not just my neighborhood or town that lost electricity, it was many towns and cities, that many people would suffer. The mountains were hazy, flat and white against a pure white sky, a very physical fog sitting on the open hay fields, as though it was glowing from within. The rising moon did not know how thick with wet snow the sky had been the night before.
‘What is lost holds possibility’ is how I saw my new situation. I was lost in my own house, (without the beloved wood stove that I had in Vermont all those years back), 35 degrees inside, and then there was the grieving of my beloved lost trees, each one a personal friend that I had planted, (except for the ancient catalpa), with it’s own personality. I heard the birch’s three tallest branches that bent onto the house the night before snap like toothpicks. An hour later the air became crisp and clear, the cobalt blue sky holding big white clouds, as though the storm had been a mere dream. But the remnants of fallen trees across the roads as I drove into town, the cables and electric wires sprawled everywhere, declared otherwise. Town looked like a war showed up. Some people died, of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to heat themselves.
One of the more embarrassing moments in my life was, on that second morning when I knew I could not stay in my house, right from my bed I drove into Amherst, not even knowing where I was going. I pulled into Amherst College, thinking I’d go to the Campus Center and sit by a fireplace, but it was closed. I saw students going to another building, (Valentine Commons), so I followed. I felt so powerless, lost, confused, cold. The woman checking students in knew me, (she lives on my street), and let me get coffee and scrambled eggs, and would not take $.  I devoured the coffee and breakfast like a hunter eats. Three students sat near me. We smiled. I said, ‘good morning.’  I had not slept, and my hair must have been sticking out on one side, but I am around students all the time so felt perfectly comfortable asking, “Do you know if the gym is allowing community members to shower?” (I wanted a hot shower even more than I wanted food). The three girls looked at each other, got up and moved to another table. I think they thought I was homeless, and really, I was, and had a first class experience of what it would be like to not have a home, to have to ask for something like that, something that basic. I was still shivering, could not warm up, and then was misunderstood. I worried about the homeless people I have come to know at the Survival Center whom I visit. It becomes all too easy to just step over the line and be there, even with a phd, (in one case).
Friends’ got their electricity three towns over, so I had places to go, and chose the home of the friends who said, “We want you to come. It will be like our usual social dinners, and you will be warm and fed and take a shower and sleep well.” They let me bring Ruby.

building stretchers, old paintings, and hand prints

2011 July 11
by Lorna

My least favorite job is building stretchers. The corners have to be exactly right-angled and there are 6 paintings to build. I got three corners perfect and then one is off. I fix that one and the others are off. Finally all corners are perfect. That job done, I will next put on corners and braces; easy, because these are a mere 40 X 50″. For 35 years I worked 66 X 74″ because that was the size when I reached my arms out. Most of these paintings are now collecting dust in the racks. (Only Corporations and Banks have purchased some). I like working small other than for practical reasons anyhow. (I can make the space in a small painting as wide and open and deep as on a big canvas).

I had to move many of my 66 X 74″ paintings in the lower part of the barn in order to stop rain from coming in by casting concrete against the rock foundation. I want to burn the paintings; they take up space, are heavy, collect dust, and remind me how hard I worked from a place that no longer exists for me now. Seeing these paintings again makes me realize how much my spirit has shifted, how many life times I have lived, to be painting the paintings I am now painting. The painting flows as the search continues; I don’t waste paint like I used to, (even though I still am a ‘scraper.’ I reuse what I scrape, ‘cooling down’ or ‘warming up’ what looks like mud).

I made the discovery of three hand prints on my mirror of my 3 year old grand niece’s hands. I myself did this as a child, and as a traveler, have seen hand prints from different cultures as a way of expression  to mark territory, in Honduras, (of which I have photographs on the walls of peoples’ homes in the Garifuna communities), in South Africa in the Townships, in Australian Aboriginal paintings, and they also exist in North African homes. My own hand prints are embedded in concrete all around my house, on steps and walls. I shall not wash the mirror. It probably means that the culprit will end up spending a lot of time here in this house.


2011 June 12
by Lorna

The sky got really so dark that I could not see color, late afternoon. By sunset the heavy rain had stopped and I was able to go for my usual sunset walk. Upon my return, I ran back into the barn to look at the painting on the easel again; (I had carried it in my mind, continuing to make changes even while I walked).When I got back, I could see just enough color as I was mixing paint, working on the painting which I had never intended to do at that time. Not being able to see well freed the ideas to flow, more than I had experienced all day, all week, so now I have an exciting new beginning for tomorrow!! I waited for that lower left corner to open up all day long, (actually day after day), and it just did not; it just got more and more rigid, painted w/ideas that I have already learned, applied, painted again and again. (It is hard to break old habits). I applied paint in the dark, knowing how much that lower left corner stagnated, risking what was there, having been worked and reworked, not afraid of losing it at all. I loved how the freedom made me feel, how my hands moved the paint across the surface;….simply, I did not like the ideas that got me so stuck, reminding me how set in my ways I can become. The rest of the painting was so alive but the lower left corner was not reinforcing that source of life. Painting in the dark was more about painting allowing the imagination to soar, as the ideas were flying in from elsewhere, from cultures and travels and from outer worlds. The presence of the rest of the painting was now being honored, reinforced. Breathing life into that lower left corner was much like breathing into an asana pose at it’s maximum stretch, holding it, breathing into it until it really opens, then staying in it as though I had learned to levitate.


2011 January 10
by Lorna

“Yesterday we walked between rainstorms along the shores of Goats Neck Beach and then Wrights Beach. I loved one beach right after the other. Goat’s has the mouth of the Russian River running into the ocean. Birds float on it’s current like little kids going down a sled, over and over again. Just before the waves come crashing in on them, they fly up and over, only to start over again riding the River. We saw seals sunning themselves, and seals diving into the River at its mouth for fish. So much life!!!  I called a sculptor friend who also sails and loves the ocean just as I do, so that he too, could hear the waves.  There are signs that say, ‘keep facing the ocean to watch for ‘sleeper waves,’  peering backwards to see if you are being followed by a monster wave about to eat you up.

One would not think the mind and body and soul could carry the weight of mountains, the ocean’s waves, and all the things we each do and say and feel from how we live our lives on a daily basis, but, they do.

Port Reyes is a protected national park; getting there entailed a drive on windy twisted steep roads through pastureland. Black cows look like toys silhouetted on the tops of rolling sensuous hills. We passed eucalyptus trees along the roads, poplar, and Monterey pine.  Californian Live Oaks are so expressive that they draw themselves; they would be so easy to fall onto the sketch paper, as they are already drawn. The twists and turns of their limbs are knarly like apple trees only larger, right up to the sky, and even horizontal along the earth where they have rooted themselves. The textures of different trees is enjoyable, similar to the mixtures of different scotch broom brush textures I have seen in the southwest.  The rain has made the green of alfalpha an emerald green; when the sunlight hits it, which it did for all of five seconds today; it ignited with a streak of white green. The usual grey of brush and unplanted earth has turned a pink-grey from yet even more rain. It rains heavily night and day, day after day. A little piece of blue sky reminded me that there is a sky behind the clouds.  We passed the Bay River that got wider and wider as it ran into the ocean. We saw both a white and a blue heron, egrets, small deer, a skunk that ran heads with our little white puppy who almost ‘got it,’ and a fox.

Just as we got to where we were to hike, Abbots Lagoon, the rain stopped. We came to the Lagoon two miles later, a pristine, large body of water around which we walked.  I could hear the roar of the ocean, convincing my cousin Neil that it was not miles away, but maybe another mile. (I should remember that he is 9 years older than I am). Through sand we walked to the ocean. As we came up to the 20- mile long stretch of beach, the roar of the waves I will always be able to hear again  ‘on recall.’

From the air, Nevada is barren, of one muted color brown, and one big Lake, (Tahoe)? Next comes Utah, with mountains and more color variations of browns, many snow capped, then Colorado; the Rockies are one straight horizontal, the tops of which are consistently craggy and snow capped, catching the sun setting on them. To the east are endless miles of beautiful patterned farmland, completely flat, with geometric divisions, also changing browns with more hue variations, with the exception of an undulating tiny river cutting through the geometry. These patterns were paintings I wanted to paint, that I will paint, (another stored visual memory for me).  In the night cities all lit up came through the clouds; I did not know where we were, except that we were ‘high, high up.’ The sensation of flying is such an insecure feeling in my solar plexus, especially when we lifted up into the air as the earth was moving farther away, or when there was turbulence, and then again when we came in for a landing.”

frozen fingers

2010 November 20
by Lorna

Mid-day was warm enough, but then as the sun suddenly dropped at 4pm, coldness set in quickly before I was finished drawing, crayons dropping from frozen fingers that did not even seem to belong to me.  I never quite remember the light being as sharp as it was a year ago at this time.  I could see color best from morning until 3:30; then, suddenly, I could not even see the mountains, because it was as though they were being lit up from inside themselves, blinding me. Everything became chiaroscuro. No color. At 4:30 I closed up shop dejected.  ‘Brrrr.’ Cold went right through me for hours after I returned home. The color made it so worthwhile to endure, and start out again the next morning with new eyes.

‘stretching canvases-attitude’ and ‘how a painting gets born”

2010 July 15
by Lorna

Rather than seeing the manual labor as a chore, (because the job ‘has’ to get done), I have learned to love the process of building a canvas from scratch. I will often stretch three or four canvases at a time, so that I don’t have to take a break between paintings: I can merely pull them out of the racks like thin pieces of paper. My whole physical self goes into the construction of stretchers, then stretching the canvas over the stretchers so that it pulls tightly, ‘(just so,’ as I need the “exact bounce” for the application of paintbrush onto the canvas, so that the canvas responds),’ then glued, and then primed. All the while I am going through this 3-day building process, I am imagining how a painting get born, i.e., how it will transcend from where I left off in the last painting. My thinking already is, “Take what the last painting’s most inventive ideas are and make them become something larger. “Start from there,” I convince myself. My canvas-making is highly skilled, much like a violinist’s presence going into the instrument as it is constructed. Once the blank canvas is placed vertically on the easel, it already becomes something other than what it was when it was while being primed flat on the ground. I stand for long periods of time facing it until my body knows even before I do what color, what shape, how it will be placed, and where it will go, breaks the silence of all that stark white flatness. Each subsequent placing of paint is in a ‘call and response’ mode to other paint marks. The whiteness is replaced by the movement that occurs between the colors from the very first marks. ‘If’ the white comes back, (in the form of paint), it is because it becomes integrated as a color in relation to other colors, so that the white moves, too, rather than being left over when a color is placed. Thus, the beginning of a new painting.


2010 May 26
by Lorna

At 4:40 am when I got up to get ready for bed, (having fallen asleep dressed), I heard the first birdsong of the morning: one crystal clear ‘full-sentence’ undulating melody. Within minutes came a myriad of call-and response songs from all sides of my house as a take off from that first one. Lots of conversation: I think they were saying, ‘oh my, oh my, oh my.’ A tiny bit of deep dark blue light appeared from out of the heaviness of night, and then I went back to sleep engulfed by the chorus.


2010 May 25
by Lorna

The staff at the Funeral Home is beginning to look like relatives. I hope we don’t have to return for a good long while yet. My sister pointed to where I have a plot; she said she’d ‘be right next to me,’ to which I said, ”oh, good, so we can continue hacking it out.’ Leaving the funeral home, Mark made the comment: “Jews should never direct traffic.’ (What a pile up of non-moving cars facing old men whose waving arms and panicked expressions stagnated traffic).  Aunt Denise was buried today. As soon as I got home I went for my sunset walk; I passed a neighbor shoveling dirt, trying to plant an enormous  birch tree. I grabbed a shovel and joined in, (assuaging the dirt I shoveled onto Aunt Denise’s coffin). Strangest thing: all I could think about all during the funeral was how hungry I was, conjuring up what would please me most….visions of grilled shrimp with lots of garlic and parsley over pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil, imported parmesan cheese, red wine. (This would greatly please my Aunt, as she was a famous French chef and had no patience for grieving).  My other thought was, “It’s so great to be on this side of the earth.”

Boston Arts and Entertainment Artist Q&A Examiner Visual artist Lorna Ritz announces upcoming exhibits and discusses her approach April 15, 12:09 AMArtist Q&A ExaminerJudy Pokras

2010 April 16
by Lorna

Lorna Ritz and her pet, Kukumba, who she says is “not really a cat, but something I dreamt up.”
Photo courtesy of Mark Prince
Visual artist Lorna J. Ritz has announced there will be an upcoming show of her work at the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, New York in 2011.

She currently has a show at the American Ambassador’s residence in Caracas, which will be there for the next three years. She also exhibits at The Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, MA., and the Alan Klotz Gallery in NYC,  Her work can be found in numerous private and public collections.

How long does it take you to work on a painting, from start to finish? Do you work on more than one at a time? 

I work on one painting at a time, and to silence. My students sometimes ask if they can watch me paint, but I tell them: ‘You’d be bored.’ I spend so much time just standing there silent within, waiting, watching for an idea to come. It always does, but only when I am in a meditative state. Therefore, a painting can take six weeks, studying it everyday, working on it, making changes, then studying it again. I seem to know how to access a place from within from where imagination flows, so that there is intent in the brush marks. 

How do you know when a painting is done? 

It never is. I could conceivably work on one painting forever. It would just keep evolving into something I like more. But I let a painting go when its statement is real, alive, and showing me more each time I study it, so I let it live there instead of changing it all over again. The colors each sit rhythmically tied to each other and so no longer need to be exchanged yet again.

Do you ever feel like working more on paintings that you finished in the past?

No, that moment is gone and I am just not there anymore.

How has your work evolved? 

The space in the paintings has deepened over time, there is more to see, more you want to experience, finding places where you want to be, that you’d never have previously imagined. Painting is another form of travel, discoveries made along the way.

Who and/or what have been your major influences? 

The Japanese painter Kimura, who lived in Paris 20 years; Joan Mitchell; Robert Ryman; Jane Wilson; my mentor, James Gahagan; the last paintings of Monet; Bonnard’s color; the French painters, Corot and Poussin, and yes, still Kandinsky.

What inspires your paintings? 

Landscape, experience, and time.

Do you listen to music when you work? If so, do you have a favorite genre, and how does the music affect your work?
The way I paint simulates improvisational jazz, which I listen to only after I paint, or to get me started. When I work I listen to wind, the sound of rain, snow falling, birdsongs. I don’t want my eyes to get interrupted by others’ rhythms, especially when I get so involved in the music.

How do the titles relate to your paintings, especially in the case of the ones with more unusual, poetic titles?

Each painting finds it title after I take it off the easel. I live with the painting when it is hung on the wall, until its essence finds its name. For example, I did a painting while I was in mourning for my Father, who was very dear to me. The colors were my Father, his presence. The painting titled itself, “Eternal Presence.”

What’s your biggest challenge as an artist?

If you look at my resume, you’d think I am successful. But I have debt. Paint and living costs could conceivably change my attitude if I allowed them to do so. I am a good painting teacher, which is how I have always made a living, but schools are hiring much younger artists now, so I have no stability, just some teaching gigs that have allowed me to keep painting. When I could not afford paint, I ripped up corrugated  cardboard and made collages, or drew; (I always have crayons), so nothing stops me from being at my best painting-self, except for those times I do feel like a ship lost at sea in a storm caught in everyday personal life problems. Then another of my best selves rises up and I then conquer that, too. I keep discovering what keeps me strong, reinventing my solid base which keeps getting challenged by life.
Is there anything you would wish for in public policy to help artists?

In Europe if you have been painting as long as I have been, and have the body of work that I do, the government venerates you and financially shows it. In this country, the successful corporate people are the ones venerated. Art is always the first thing to go, when there are cuts. In the newspapers, the title page is the “Arts and Leisure” section. Public Policy would, in my dream of dreams, title one section “Leisure” and another “The Arts.” And being the teacher that I am, one would think that with my many years of rich painting experience that I would be grabbed up by the colleges who need serious painters who know how to articulate visual ideas.

What advice do you have for young or new artists?

Don’t sell out by following trends. Look within, and look out and around you, but don’t have your head stuck in the gallery scene. Get life experience. Fall in love with your medium so that your distinctive voice can be heard through it. Then, build upon that. Community is more important that competition. Care about each other and help each other all along the way.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I ‘listen’ for the hidden secrets embedded in the paint itself, and to how it wants to move across the surface of linen. The surfaces of my paintings resemble ancient walls, in that there is a sense of history alive in them, through the repetition of the “placement and replacement” of paint many times over. It is necessary to go through the search process each painting. A painting gets born when it has a specific presence that comes alive in it, that seems, for me, to come together only at the very end through the last accoutrements that fine-tune it.

Lorna holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute, New York. She has extensive experience as a teacher, both in the United States and abroad, and has traveled through the U.S. Information Agency. The recipient of several awards, she has exhibited at Smith College Museum of Art, The Painting Center, New York City; the Fine Arts Center’s University Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, and the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, among other institutions. She also traveled through the “International Program” through the Augusta Savage Gallery to work with artists in the Townships in Cape Town.

Painting Statement

2010 January 26
by Lorna

The way I work, one painting begets the one yet to come. The paintings grow out of each other. My paintings come from the things around me that I see, such as ancient mountains, (the Holyoke range formed by glaciers), clouds and their cast shadows on these mountains, the open hayfields where I live, and memories of shapes and colors that rise up unexpectedly from memorized places where I have traveled. It is how colors relate that guides me. My color combinations come directly from landscape, or from architecture when I am amongst structures as inspiring as the Alhambra, with it’s bodies of water strategically flowing that are companions to them. My painting is ‘edited memory.’
The physicality of oil paint lends itself well to how I locate light falling on the mountains from the sky of a particular day; I love moving paint fluidly around, both thinly and thickly, scraping and repainting it. The surfaces of my paintings resemble ancient walls, in that there is a sense of history alive in them, through the repetition of the “placement and replacement” of paint many times over. (I try to convince my students that they can’t expect to get it right the first hundred times, that it is necessary to go through the search process). I feel like I am at a construction site breathing life onto the canvas through a simultaneous building up and a tearing down of color. I love to see open, breathing, moving space create entry way inside the picture plane of the flat surface of linen. It is the act of breathing life onto the canvas that enables the painting’s surface to be like windows or mirrors into which to look. It is the architectural construction of a painting that moves me. A painting gets born when it has a specific presence that comes alive in it, that seems, for me, to come together only at the very end through the last accoutrements that come along so naturally and pleasurably, and fine-tune all that is already compositionally holding together, rhythmically tied.
My paintings are not objectified; they don’t hold objects, but they do hold spirit, souls, and memory, all of which rise up in a form conducive to be said in paint. The paint finds it before even I do, that makes how colors relate be everything. My paintings ‘sing’ through the light that emanates from the color combinations themselves.
I explore ideas just as an improvisational musician finds his “lines.” The dialog between ideas lives in me like a fascinating story I’m telling. The painting has to have a life of it’s own unlike any previous painting’s life. I want to see what happens through the “chance encounters” I have with paint, ‘in the moment.’ Free like this, invention surges up and I paint out of curiosity: a problem area in the painting becomes a foreign country in which to travel. I continue to strengthen the major concept as it is forming it’s way to becoming “whole.” I can never quite get there, but I get closer as I develop my skill, over time. I enjoy the struggle and the search, reaching for the inaccessible, referential to landscape that is not overtly stated, but implied. A familiar shape worked out in the last painting gets obliterated in the new one, for it cannot have a name that has already been spoken. My painting process is always unsettling, completely passionate, radical, and driven, but it is the paint itself that guides me to a place of wonder. The painting has to be better than the idea, which was the painting’s original intent.
What I look for when I carry my easel out to the landscape for the drawings done ‘on site’ is composition, ‘where’ a mountain will sit within the space of the four edges of paper in relation to the trees in front of it, clouds behind it. I seek as deep a space as I can, so that when I see that the sky moves behind the mountain, I simultaneously see that the foreground field comes up towards me. The movement between them is the compelling force of the drawing. I study the light of the particular day, find it in crayon, as though the mountains and trees and sky and the shadows from clouds are all glowing from within, responding with so much life to each other. Newly discovered color relationships, for me, come from some one dramatic event that has taken place in the sky, or on the land, at a particular moment that burns in me to paint. The horizon gives prelude to what is beyond landscape in the paintings; so, I want to push it there.
Each of my paintings represents a crystallized chunk of formal experience, as well as being very personal at the same time. My paintings are earthy, rock-like and weighty, and yet they have in them the rhythm of the sea. I am a nature painter; the nature “out there” coupled with my own internal landscape. My “inner” finds the equivalent “out there.”
I have a need to communicate personal experience, to send waves of emotion that look like the painting got painted with little conscious effort, having a quality of a time distortion effect, even though the painting took months of concentration to pull together into what whole impact it finally becomes. The journey is never over; I always see more to do, but then, knowing when it is time to move on to a new painting is an art form unto itself.