Julian Ritter was born as Julian Stawski on September 19, 1909 in Hamburg Germany. He died on March 4, 2000 in Kula, Hawaii at the age of 90. In the span of his life he expressed his gifts for discerning the beauty and foibles of human beings with color and vivacity. Julian's work reflected his ability to see beyond the superficial demeanor to the driving forces beneath human interactions. His glamorous and ethereal paintings of nudes raised haunting subliminal reactions. Clowns remind us of our inner selves. Montages of women and men, in swirling vortexes of energy, illustrate our subconscious dreams, urges, wishes, desires.
Ritter created art from his earliest years, beginning his serious education at the Chicago Art Institute and later at the Art Center School (now the Art Center College of Design), graduating in 1932. He worked as a set design and painting portraits until 1939. He traveled to San Francisco for the Golden Gate International Exhibition of 1939, where he painted ninety foot murals for the Mines, Minerals and Machinery Building. After he returned to the Los Angeles area he exhibited in New York, then returned to Los Angeles again in time to meet his future wife, Hidegarde "Hilde" Sabena Meyer-Radon in 1942. They were married in 1943 in Mississippi while Ritter was in the Army, awarded American citizenship and returned to Los Angeles in 1945.
Ritter and the family, including his two children Michael and Christine, lived in the Los Angeles area until 1956. During his stay he was successful with his nudes, clowns and other paintings, especially in the Las Vegas area and in Chicago, painting a mural at the Bismarck Inn.
In 1956, Ritter and his family moved to Mexico, in San Blas, Nayarit, a small village between the west coast Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta for just over a year. In 1957, they moved to Santa Barbara.
Ritter painted and showed at the Poulson Galleries in Pasadena, the James Vigeveno Gallery in Westwood, and was also represented by Maxwell Galleries and the Kotzbeck Gallery in San Francisco, plus galleries in Palm Springs and Scottsdale.
After his wife, Hilde passed away from cancer in 1966, Ritter sold the Santa Barbara house and embarked on a long tour in a custom-built yawl, the Galilee, to Mexico, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. After Ritter and his two person crew left Bora Bora for Hawaii on June 17, 1970 they encountered problems and were at sea for 99 days, 47 days without food. On September 14, 1970 they were rescued by a U.S. Naval ship, saving them from near death.
Ritter subsequently settled in Santa Barbara for the next fifteen years. In late 1975 he had a show at the Morseburg Galleries in Los Angeles, titled "Julian's World", consisting of 101 paintings and 16 drawings. It was his last major public show.
In mid-1985 Ritter moved to Maui, Hawaii, with his son, Michael. On December, 1985 Julian suffered a debilitating stroke. He recovered sufficiently to teach painting and write. He passed away at home at the age of 90, on March 4, 2000.
Michael Ritter, Julian's son
He preferred to be called a painter, not an artist. The latter was a loaded word and used far too casually for Julian’s taste. It was a title you might earn after a lifetime of devoted hard work, but if you were a serious student of art, as he considered himself, you never referred to yourself as an artist. His heroes, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt were artists, but in his own German accented words he was, “yust a stinky painter.” When someone asked what our father did for a living, we dutifully replied, “He’s a painter.” Of course, they left believing Papa was a house painter. We believed our Papa was a great artist.
Brian Peluso, Julian's grandson
My earliest memories were of the house in Montecito. The two hour drive from Los Angeles was an amaranthine journey for a six year old. Dad owned a 1970 Pinto station wagon painted lime green with that cheesy wood paneling at a time when Kermit the frog ruled children's TV and gas was only 55 cents a gallon. We would head north on highway 101 toward Santa Barbara and exit on Summerland Drive. A quick right followed, then a stop on the side of the road to pick sour-grass, a bit further and make the left into Toro Canyon and up the windy two lane street to his creek side home.
It was a game. He would throw open the door wearing his karate gi (Julian earned a black belt), take two steps back, and with a yell launch a kick that would send his white hair flying and my sister and I running and screaming back up the drive. But Grandpa was always there, scooping us up in his arms with a huge belly laugh.
The house was small, but elegant. There was an aviary and a garden that would rival any in Architectual Digest, and a charming wood-paneled kitchen in which something fresh from the garden, farm, or sea was always cooking. The ever present staple of fresh pumpernickle bread and raw unsalted butter waited on the table, while the barking of Sargent and Major (his two German Shepard dogs) and, of course, the ubiquitous aroma of Half and Half pipe Tobacco and turpentine greeted our arrival.
And there were paintings. Everywhere. Every square foot of every wall was covered. From small to large to grand. stupendous works that left a lifelong impression on me.
1909 - 2000
All rights of reproduction of all images remain with the Estate of Julian Ritter, by Michael Ritter