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. He was born September 17, 1948 in Buffalo, NY, to parents Thomas E. (now deceased) and Barbara A. Litz who had a family of seven children and Jimmy’s other siblings were; Kathleen M., Ret. Lt. Col. Thomas E., Daniel E., Mary A., George W. and Michael A. 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. It all 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. He enjoyed drawing 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 a 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

A Buffalo native, James grew up in Cheektowaga, NY and was a graduate of Cleveland Hill High School. In 1968, he was drafted into the Army to serve in the Vietnam War. On his twentieth birthday he was deployed from Oakland, CA, and soon found himself in the jungles of Vietnam as a 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). James served 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. His tour of duty in the Central Highlands and the I and II Corps coastal Tactical Zones of Vietnam with the 1st Calvary Division, affected and “wounded” James in a way that only Vietnam Veterans can adequately explain or understand. After he returned home, 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.

“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 nineteenth 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. As of 2010, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, NY, had a memorial exhibition celebrating his life & work titled "Celebrating James Litz", June 19-October 3, in the R. William Doolittle Gallery.

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.

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: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, two dozen paintings were acquired in 2009 for a future exhibit, Buffalo, NY.

Private Collections: Jackie Gleason (deceased); Roy Rogers (deceased); the Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya (deceased); opera singer Patrice Munsel, cellist Lynn Harrell, and Bill Cosby.

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.)