Intersections of Color and Music: The Work of Lorna Ritz


Phoebe Lease ’21

Walking into to the Oresman Gallery on  a dark and windy afternoon felt like entering a separate  world. My footsteps echoed on the wooden floor as I stood before Lorna Ritz’s exhibition “Seeing Music,” a collection of 16 paintings “that are like the movements of a symphony.” Ritz’s series explores the relationships between color and music. Each painting, she explains, chronicles an event that include both her physical and visual experiences and her internal perspectives.

A long-time member of the Pioneer Valley community, Ritz has based many a painting off of the natural beauty of the area, such as Mt. Norwottuck and various landscapes in Amherst. After studying under James Gahagan, a former student of famous painter Hans Hofmann, she taught art at RISD, Brown, Dartmouth and other universities. She has also been featured in galleries internationally, including at the American Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

Many of Ritz’s paintings are large with some over five feet tall. The expanse of canvas allows Ritz to work with swaths of color and texture, and in turn invites the viewer to get lost in a window of abstract emotions. Ritz describes her painting process as improvisational, which is influenced by jazz and other forms of music with spontaneity. She says “[she listens] to how the paint wants to move,” allowing for the paint to take on a life of its own. However, this doesn’t mean that that her paintings don’t involve careful technique; some can take a year or more to finish and she can spend hours in front of the canvas before making another stroke. This process is documented in paintings like “Snow, Ice with Pink Cloud,” where one can see the intricate drips of brown and mauve paint peeking out from underneath the layers of vibrant blues and yellows — as if Ritz had changed her mind and adopted a completely different vision halfway through the painting process.

My favorite of the series is “Sound of Snow”; its use of orange and green catches your attention because they are not colors usually associated with snow. The organic shapes used in the painting convey the timbre of the sound of snow crunching, as if the painting is a giant musical score for a winterscape. In fact, the way in which color, light and space interplay in many of Ritz’s pieces feel like sheet music for a performance of nature. There is an aspect of experimentalism in which the open process of her painting allows for a different, personal interpretation of each painting.

Ritz’s work has many fans, whose comments are catalogued in a little booklet at the front of her exhibit. Visitors comment on their favorite paintings, the joy they evoked, and the brief respite they found from the stress of life in her work. Come see her paintings in the Oresman Gallery, which is open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “Seeing Music: Color Finds Rhythms, Harmonies, and Counterpoints” will be on display until May 17.