James C. Litz

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James "Jimmy" C. Litz (American, 1948-2009) self-taught artist who is internationally known for his “primitive-naïve” style of oil and acrylic paintings that feature colorful & humorous characters and scenes. James "Jimmy" Charles Litz was born September 17, 1948 in Buffalo, NY, to parents Thomas Edward Litz and Barbara A. (née Thiell) to a family of seven children to include; Kathleen M., Ret. Lt. Col. Thomas E., Daniel E., Mary A., George W. and Michael A. As a Buffalo native, he grew up in Cheektowaga, NY and his early education included the Mother Devine Grace Grade School and Cleveland Hill High School where he graduated from in 1967.

On April 19, 1968, James was drafted into the Army to serve in the Vietnam War. His basic training was at Fort Dix, NJ, then onto Fort Polk, LA for nine weeks, and he later deployed from the Oakland Army terminal in California on his twentieth birthday where he soon found himself in the jungles of Vietnam as an advanced combat infantryman manning an M-60 machine gun. During his tour of duty, he served in the Army 1st Battalion, the 7th Cavalry (Company D), and the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile, Sky-Troopers), serving his entire duty in the jungles of the Tay Ninh Province, Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the Central Highland areas of the southern portion of Vietnam. During his tour in the Central Highlands and the I and II Corps coastal Tactical Zones of Vietnam with the 1st Calvary Division, James sustained a service injury and his experience there affected and “wounded” him in a way that only Vietnam Veterans can adequately explain or understand. After he was discharged from the Army on April 14, 1969 with a 'Hardship Discharge', he found he had great difficulty adjusting to civilian life. He had a lot of trouble holding down employment and he moved from job to job. Eventually alcohol became a way of dealing with his shattered youth and lack of direction in his post-war life.

With no formal art training, Jimmy, as he was known to his family and friends, didn’t start painting until he was thirty three years old. His early interest in art began with a simple babysitting job in the early 1980’s. To pass the time and entertain his two nephews, James would draw pictures in pencil and crayons and together they would color in the drawings. In addition, during therapy sessions at the local VA hospital for his drinking problem, James was told that he had to do something other than drink in his spare time, so he started to draw and paint. He enjoyed it so much as a result that he purchased paints and began turning his sketches into actual paintings. With encouragement from the artist Will Moses (American, 20th Century-), the great-grandson of the celebrated artist Grandma Moses (American, 1860-1961), and local Buffalo artist and gallery owner Tony Sisti (American, 1901-1983), Litz continued with his career in painting. Little did he know at the time, that his new found talent would lead to national and international recognition. His paintings have a very child-like quality to them and you can see the artist’s active imagination at work transforming everyday life into art. In 1994, the fine arts magazine Sunstorm, labeled him as having a “natural wit and style”. However we label him, he is a painter of exquisite charm. He derails all our expectations and confounds our usual idea of pictorial “rightness”. As an acclaimed artist and after years of recognition, it was first the desire to create that moved James.

“When I paint, time stands still! To create a painting brings me great joy and satisfaction! God has given me a great talent and I paint because He has blessed me.”[1]- J.C. Litz

“I did not start to paint until I was thirty-three years old. I have no schooling in art. I am a self-taught or primitive or naïve painter. I paint humorous, colorful, childlike paintings because I have no art education, and I began to paint because I never held employment after my return home from Vietnam, because I had trouble taking orders from people in an authority role. My father told me to join the Air Force Reserves when I graduated from high school in 1967, but I did not want to be obligated to a six-year commitment to the Reserves. I took my chances and was drafted in 1968, into the company and regiment George Armstrong Custer commanded when he lost the Battle of Little Big Horn. I left the Oakland (California) Army terminal on my twentieth birthday and arrived in Vietnam in the 1 a.m. dark. I remember they turned the runway lights on just long enough for the jet to land. I was processed and flown to the jungle to serve with an M-60 machine-gun squad, mainly along the South China Sea coast. I only served in Vietnam about three or four months. My entire time there was spent in the jungles.”[2]- J.C. Litz

After his experience in Vietnam, James stated in a 1983 interview with the Buffalo News the therapeutic affect painting had on him, “When I paint,” he said, “it’s like the only real time I am able to communicate what’s going on inside my head. It’s the best way to get my ideas out.”[3]

“If it turns out that people like my stuff well enough to buy it, well that’s OK too, because I paint for the feeling of peace it gives me.”[4] Needless to say, James was thrilled by all of the attention his paintings have received over the years and was quite flattered. According to his brother George, James was very proud that he had finally accomplished something in his life. Jimmy painted constantly, often working late into the night and over the course of his nearly twenty year career, he probably created over 1000 paintings which also included commission work.

James first received national attention from an exhibition of his work at the Yolanda Gallery in Chicago, IL. He received international recognition when his painting “La Carriole” was selected for the permanent collection of the Museé D’Art Naïf de l’lle De France (the leading museum in the world for naïve art and now called Museé D’Art Naïf-Max Fourny, and also known as the Museé D’Art Brut & Art Singulier, Paris, France). The same painting was also included in the book about naïve art entitled La Cité et les Naïfs, by Max Fourny, publisher, art collector and founder of the Museé D’Art Naïf, and also published in France. James won the First Place award out of seven given, for best originality of a 'Naive Artist' for his painting of the Pilot Feild baseball stadium in Buffalo, NY, from 189 entries at an exhibition at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. In conjuction with the owners of The Bisons baseball team at Pilot Field (Rich Products Corp.), Jimmy donated that painting (as well as posters made of the piece) to help benefit the Vietnam Veterans of America Scholarship Fund and the Vietnam Veteran Leadership Program at a group exhibition titled "Purple HeART," which was held at the Atrium at Rich Renaissance Niagara from February 14-26, of 1992.

In 1986, James married second grade school teacher, Beverly Jean (née Gast) Litz (1944-2011), whom he first met through a dating service. The couple resided in Cheektowaga, NY but never had any children. Unfortunately, suffering from severe depression and diabetes, James had not been able to paint since about 2000 his family stated. James died on Tuesday November 24, 2009, at the age of 61 at the Batavia Veterans Home, Batavia, NY. The Mass of Christian Burial Service was held December 1st at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in Clarence, NY, and James is buried in the Mount Cavalry Cemetery, Buffalo, NY. His wife Beverly passed away April 11, 2011. In 2010, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY, had a memorial exhibition celebrating James' life & work titled, "Celebrating James Litz", from June 19-October 3, in the R. William Doolittle Gallery, and they have over twenty-five of Jimmy's works in their permanent collection.

Permanent displays: The National and International Vietnam Veterans War Art Museum, Chicago, IL; the American Folk Art Museum, NYC; the President Bush Library, Houston, TX; Museé D’Art Naïf de l’lle De France; the International Folk Art Museum, La Jolla, CA; and the James Fennimore Coopers Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

Collections: Over twenty-five works of art in the permanent collection of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY; New York State Military Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY; and the New York Heritage Digital Collections, Empoire State Library Network.

Private Collectors: Jackie Gleason ; Roy Rogers ; the Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya ; opera singer Patrice Munsel, cellist Lynn Harrell, 52nd Governor of New York Mario Cuomo, and Bill Cosby.

Multimedia: There is an facinating oral history video interview of James C. Litz talking about his life and his experience in the Vietnam War that was conducted February 20, 2001 by the New York State Military Museum titled, “James Charles Litz, Private First Class, US Army, Vietnam War”, Interviewer Lieutnenat Colonel Robert Von Hasseln (posted 12/29/15), and you can view it at the following Youtube link.

For additional information on this artist or for other possible examples of his works, please visit the AskArt link.

(Rewritten in parts & compiled by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: Furnished upon request.)

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