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 James C. (Jimmy) Litz  (1948 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: colorful, humorous genre and landscape scenes

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Ad Code: 4
"North Country of New England Rural Lake", 1999, 22 x 30", acrylic on paper, signed & dated lower right.
"North Country of New England Rural Lake", 1999, 22 x 30", acrylic on paper, signed & dated lower right.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
James C. Litz is a self-taught artist who has a “primitive-naive” style of oil and acrylic paintings that features colorful  and humorous characters and scenes. 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, described him as having a “natural wit and style”.  Of his work, he says:

“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

He was born September 17, 1948 in Buffalo, NY and had no formal art training. His artwork was known to his family and that all began with a simple babysitting job in the early 1980’s. To pass the time and entertain his two nephews, Litz 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, the great-grandson of the celebrated artist Grandma Moses (1860-1961), and a local Buffalo artist and gallery owner Tony Sisti, Litz continued with his career in painting.  Little did he know at the time, that his new found talent would be appreciated by a wider audience. 

James Litz 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). He 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” Litz 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, he 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, Litz was thrilled when he began to get attention for his paintings.  According to his brother George, he was very proud that he had finally accomplished something in his life.

James first received national attention from an exhibition of his work at the Yolanda Gallery in Chicago, IL. He was pleased when his painting La Carriole was selected for the permanent collection of the Museé D’Art Naïf de l’lle De France (also known as the Museé D’Art Brut & Art Singulier, Paris, France). The same painting was also included in the book about naive art entitled La Cité et les Naifs, by Max Fourny, publisher, art collector and founder of the Museé D’Art Naïf, and also published in France.

His family stated that unfortunately, suffering from severe depression and diabetes, James Litz had not been able to paint since about 2000.  He 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 he is buried in the Mount Cavalry Cemetery, Buffalo, NY.  Shortly before he died, he had donated six of his paintings to benefit an auction for the Hunter’s Hope Foundation, 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.

(Rewritten in parts & compiled by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, 12/2009, from sources: [1] artist quote & additional info from our internal bio records; [2] artist quote and artist info, National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, www.nvvam.org; Vietnam War, 1st Cavalry Division, http://www.first-team.us/journals/1stndx06.html; U.S. 1st battalion, 7th Cavalry Division Vietnam Roster, http://www.us7thcavalry.com/1-7-vn; Gallery USA, statements from “About the Artist”, 2/26/1999 and no longer active; Wikipedia, Museé D’Art Naïf-Max Fourny; Online obituary and newspaper obituary along with photo and quote [3] & [4] from, buffalonews.com and The Buffalo News, “Primitive-style painter James Litz, 61, dies: Disabled veteran’s work captivated collectors”, by Jay Tokasz News Staff Reporter, City & Region Section B, Page B1-B2, Sunday, November 29, 2009; obit.amigonefuneralhome.com, obituary listing with info.)


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