Julian Ritter was a great artist who only cared to paint and didn’t want to be bothered by marketing. He was in his 80’s when we met, we both lived on Maui, and he was a harsh European-type teacher with only 3 students. And he picked me to be one of them because he said my work was so bad that I needed his help.
However, when he invited me to work with him I saw the fabulous full size, full length portrait of his late wife in his studio and thought he had painted it of me until I realized that was why he wanted me around. Lucky me, I reminded him of her.
We were never allowed to use ‘lines’ in our painting and it took me over a year to be allowed to do life drawings on anything but tissue paper because that’s the easiest to erase. Otherwise, he just drew angry giant X’s though my work.
We became friends and I would take him to the symphony and then dinner. He paid, I drove. During dinner he would often tell me of the horror and hunger of being adrift for 87 days in the Pacific aboard aboard his 45-foot yawl, Galilee, in what was intended to be a 30 day cruise beginning in June of 1970. Then I would take him home and help him get into his pajamas and tuck him in as his companion would not be there that late.
One night at the symphony during the break he was surrounded by admirers and he looked across the room and saw that I was also surrounded. As the Art Reviewer for the Maui News as well as showing in 5 galleries, there was always someone who wanted to talk to me as well. So he declared I was also a ‘Big Shot,’ however he wasn’t any kinder in the studio.
He had a collection of antique toys on shelves around his bed and he told me he never had toys as a poor child in Poland so he had them now. On the wall by his bed, he had an amazing drawing of his beloved grandmother who had raised him, a face full of wrinkles but every exquisite line was drawn with such love and skill. He’d done the portrait from memory because he missed her so much.
I had a flower farm upcountry in Kula where I grew chrysanthemums for the Japanese market and took this bunch to Julian’s studio for class one day. He approved both the flowers and the subsequent painting, “Flowers for Julian.”
Julian was a pain in the okole and a dear, dear blessing to me.
Joanna Jeronimo is an artist, art columnist, Telly Award winner for writing, creating and directing ArtScapes: The Power of Art and Culture in Hawaii, creator/writer and director of Blood Ties: Hawaii. Always an adventurer, she’s a university lecturer, international touring comedian, a national cooking champion and sourdough baker, published in three cookbooks, and former VIP hotel broker for luxury groups.
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A wonderful backstory that helps us understand both you and your art…
Thank you, Cyndy, he was one of a kind!