Artist Rita Curtis offers a collection of bold, eye-catching oil paintings to brighten any room or mood. See more of her work by visiting her website.
Color harmony and drama are the basis of my art. My palette leans toward warm yellows, oranges, and deep reds that are offset with a variety of blue violets.
I like to paint figures that blend mysteriously into the background. Whose dramatic gesture and featureless face imply the story. Or flowers whose petals don’t quite get delineated. Overlapping palette knife shapes that barely suggest it’s a flower.
My paintings begin with a big brush and a colorful background wash. I never know how the finished work will look, even if I use a reference photo to stimulate an idea. My imagination takes charge, develops the idea, and completes the painting.
My journey as an artist has never been straightforward. My mom called me a rebel, a tree-climbing tomboy whose bedroom was so messy, she barely noticed that I’d drawn murals on the walls. I was a daydreamer, yet also a hardworking newspaper delivery girl, an in-demand babysitter, even a lifeguard at the town pool.
Strong drawing and sewing skills got me into New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and a short career in clothing design. I escaped the fashion world by hitchhiking across Europe. At the University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy, I met intellectuals and artists from around the world. When my savings ran out, I returned home to major in English at New York University.
I supported myself through a series of editing jobs, but by this time, it had become clear that my future would be in art. With the help of scholarships I found great instructors at the Art Students League of New York. I also married, had two sons, and found time to sing with the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall.
The next leg of my journey was Baltimore and graduate school for my husband. I found nursery schools for the kids, met local artists, and sang with the Bach Society. As funds got short, I began a 20-year career at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health where I edited research papers, illustrated manuals, and ran training programs in Africa and Asia. On the side, I sketched people wherever possible, and I began a series of small palette knife paintings inspired by people I met in developing countries.
By 2005 my sons were in graduate school, and I left Johns Hopkins to paint full time. I was elated when a painting of my son won a top award in a national competition.
As the plein air painting movement swept the country, I took my gear outdoors. I won some nice awards for my landscapes, but I was surprised to find I preferred to paint the people around me more than the scenery.
Another surprise came when I was invited to teach still life at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland. Setting up flowers for the students, I discovered that I love to paint florals. Perhaps it’s the intermingling of vibrant colors with the ephemeral beauty of the blossoms.
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