Kay Ritter, TULIPS AND WATERMELON, oil on linen, 20 x 24 inches (25.5 x 29.5 framed), $5,500


Last year, Kay Ritter was about to paint one of her quirky narrative pieces when the owner of her previous gallery asked if she’d mind doing something more traditional. Ritter agreed, thinking she’d enjoy painting some flowers; and she began by setting up a still life with a vase of tulips and a watermelon, along with some apples and lemons. “I kept rearranging until I got something that lit me up and made me want to paint it,” she says. But by the time she was done, “Tulips and Watermelon” was about as nontraditional as a highly realistic floral still life can be.

More than anything else, the painting became — for her — about the bold and unexpected color harmony: the orange, the green and the yellow.  The top two-thirds of the painting is basically orange, the bottom third essentially yellow. Green occupies a middle ground, infiltrating above and below to unify the composition. “It wasn’t like I set out to make a painting about this, but it’s sort of an organic process,” Ritter says. “I can’t channel anyone else’s desires into what I’m painting because it doesn’t work.”

She keeps a large assortment of potential backdrops on hand. In this case, the one that worked when she placed it behind the arrangement was a large piece of salmon-colored Canson drawing paper. “I didn’t expect it to,” she says. “I was flipping through background colors and waiting for the moment.”

The quirkiest thing about the painting, though, is undoubtedly the watermelon. In making the unusual decision to position it so that it makes an almost perfect circle, Ritter draws our attention to the striking pattern of the alternating light and dark green stripes. In addition, she felt the big fruit’s “pose,” if you will, “anthropomorphized the watermelon” to some extent, giving the node the suggestion of an eye. “I like to think of objects as creatures of some sort,” she says. “I think making the watermelon facing towards you gives him a little more personality.”


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