EMILY RITZ | West Marin
Emily Ritz has her own glossary of wild things, a bright and playful nomenclature for the mystical fauna and flora that she creates with paint and ink. Each word is a mouthful of sounds you’ve never heard before. A kikineshu is a leafy plant with spikes; plangiu is related to but distinct from planges. This is the language of an artist roaming and discovering a landscape much wider than she is, making every found thing her own with an imagined name. Welcome to Emily’s wild and beautiful world.
Step into Emily’s studio, a small upstairs room on the main strip of Point Reyes Station, and you’ll find yourself immersed in her world, among a horde of enchanting specimens—both live and created—on the walls and along the window sills. On one wall: an octopus. On another: a gargantuan moth. On a third: a tangle of serpents and unicorns, drowned in bleeding mauves, inky turquoises, and mossy greens, with spirited accents of beige. If you look closely, an owl emerges. Move even closer to the six-foot-wide drawing and you’ll begin to see a landscape of line and textures—microscopic forms, surfaces of soft bristles and anemone-like filaments drawn into the animal forms.
Step into Emily’s studio, a small upstairs room on the main strip of Point Reyes Station, and you’ll find yourself immersed in her world, among a horde of enchanting specimens—both live and created—on the walls and along the window sills. On one wall: an octopus. On another: a gargantuan moth. On a third: a tangle of serpents and unicorns, drowned in bleeding mauves, inky turquoises, and mossy greens...
Emily, who lives in the nearby town of Inverness but spends most of her time “obsessively painting these creatures” says that her process is very intuitive and organic. A painter since childhood, she knew at age 13 that she would attend art school. When she arrived at California College of the Arts in 2007, she pursued film and made work she now describes as “layered and dark and personal.” But in her last semester of school, a professor encouraged her to forget about all the conceptual, meaning-driven concerns that she had held onto. “As soon as I really started playing and letting go, it just started flowing,” says Emily. She returned to her first art—painting and drawing. “So much beauty came out of me.”
The resulting artwork is whimsical, for sure, but certainly not trivial, small, or without meticulous labor. They are complex systems of organisms, like tide pools—at once assemblages of light, delicate elements and byproducts of natural and monumental forces. “This is the first work I’ve ever made that comes from a desire to create a visual world I’d want to live in,” says Emily. For a long time, this world is one in which she sought refuge, perhaps the only world she could bear to live in. At age 10, Emily was diagnosed with arthritis and could no longer stay in dance and gymnastics classes. She took up art classes instead. Fast-forward a decade later, and under the duress of city life, Emily’s arthritis flared up, leaving her in chronic pain. She moved from Oakland to Inverness to heal her body. “I was forced to just hang out and draw because that’s all I could really do … I confused being strong with being sick. There’s a thin line between pushing through pain and self-destruction.” Her sickness was a confrontation with her own limits, but also a renewal in determination. “Anything I shed along the way to being healthy again is not a loss; it’s just letting go of something that no longer serves me.”
For a while, Emily was also making music as one half of the dreamy duo Yesway. But for now, music is on hold, and she is focusing on her art exclusively. Last year, Emily had two major art shows—one at the Gospel Flat Farm Stand in Bolinas and the other at the Mill, a San Francisco coffee shop where Emily showcased her Lumplands, a series of three-dimensional plants and creatures reminiscent of embroidered wall hangings but made out of Sculpey clay.
At 26, Emily feels lucky that she’s always known what she wanted to do, and now, despite her arthritis, despite the recent passing of her father—or perhaps because of the strength she had to muster in the face of this adversity—she’s doing it, she’s making art, one line and stroke at a time. “This world is so chaotic,” says Emily. “If I can put any beauty into the world, that’s the best I can do.”
Emily Ritz gives a solo performance this Saturday, April 25th at our Spring Feast. Find tickets here. Also Emily has a solo art show at 18 Reasons in San Francisco from May 2nd to June 18th called Crystal Consumed. Opening party May 7th at 6pm.