“Holiday Dinner” • 18” x 24” • Oil on panel

Kay Ritter feels very fortunate that she started “living the artist’s dream” soon after graduating as a sculpture major from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971. She began creating large caricatures of people in fabric mâché using burlap, real clothes and props from junk shops. A New York gallery picked her up, collectors loved her pieces, and she enjoyed success with this work for 20 years.

But then Ritter felt she was just repeating herself, and she was “itching to do something else.” She experimented with different media and styles and discovered she loved painting still life, bringing her love of detail, her sense of humor and imagination into her new work. 

Ritter’s work flows in two directions. She paints classic still life, such as exquisitely detailed flowers painted from setups right in front of her, and whimsical narrative paintings that combine her realistic still life with something from her imagination. “I love bringing something to common objects so that you can see them in a different light,” she says. “As I developed my skills, I felt the urge to inject a narrative into my paintings. When I felt comfortable I began to add something that wasn’t right in front of me… like crows, which I admire, showing off how smart they are.” 

“Dahlias in Bucket” • 11” x 14” • Oil on linen on WOOD PANEL

Its that unexpected element that Ritter includes that sets the humorous tone to her work while also causing the viewer to pause and re-consider the work with a new perspective.

For “Holiday Dinner,” one of her most recent paintings, she set up her own dining room with as much detail as she could and then added a slew of classic holiday figures, from Cupid to Santa Claus, having a good time. “It was so wonderful to watch people as they connected with this painting at the exhibition. One man had a 2-year-old who had so much fun recognizing the Easter Bunny. I actually feel like I’m passing energy to others,” she says.

Ritter is an avid gardener and a huge fan of 19th-century artist Henri Fantin-Latour. “No one painted a better flower than he did,” she says. “At this point in time I am drawn to flowers more than any other subject material. Because they change so rapidly, I arrange them and quickly lay out a line drawing on the panel or canvas. Then I rough in the color as accurately as possible. Because my paintings are so painstakingly realistic and require many paint layers to create that illusion, I photograph the flowers early on to remind myself of their structure in their ‘original pose.’”

Ritter’s ideas come to her “like a bolt from the sky.” Currently she is starting to paint daffodils and has ideas for three narrative paintings that make her laugh to herself. “The most important thing is doing something that lights me up, that makes me want to get up,” she says. 

“I’m still living the artist’s dream,” Ritter says. “Not getting rich, but having fun. I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m still cranking.”

“Tide pool Float, Long Nook Beach”
18” x 24” • Oil on linen

Kay Ritter is represented by Chapman Art Gallery in Cotuit and Mashpee, chapmanartgallery.com.
To learn more about Ritter, visit kayritter.com.