Julian Ritter Art Gallery Opening Review - A Lifetime Dream of Michael and Christine Ritter comes true

 Photography by Greg Autry


It's the Julian Ritter Gallery.  There is no name on the marquee, exterior light fixtures remain to be hung, and many paintings remain stacked on the floor. No doubt the people of Guadalupe, California were awestruck when they entered the just opened doors of the newest, and only, Art Gallery in town.

Michael and Christine Ritter, son and daughter of the late artist Julian Ritter (1909 - 2000), have realized a lifelong dream to exhibit their father's paintings to the public. Michael, along with his nephew  Bryan , have spent months transforming an old building in the small town of Guadalupe,  into a beautiful art gallery with high walls, natural light, and dozens of Masterpieces.

As the first patron who walked through the door looked at the walls, I watched as  his jaw dropped.  He later said to Michael, `these should be in a museum'.    Indeed they do. The Art and Life of the Artist Julian Ritter is a story yet untold.  I have taken it upon myself to tell that story. I have known Julian Ritter since first meeting him in 1983. His death in 2000, four days after the death of my Mother, left me devastated.  I have been awed, inspired, and intimidated, by his life's story and his masterful works of art.

The paintings displayed on the walls are only a tiny sample of a man's life.  Displayed were personal paintings and painting meant for family and friends.  Michael and Christine Ritter spent months deciding which painting should be displayed. Along with Grandchildren Bryan and Melissa , who offered opinions and assistance along the way.

Guadalupe is a small town in the furthermost northwest corner of Santa Barbara County.  It is ten minutes from Pismo Beach, and twenty minutes from the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo.  The Amtrak train station is half a block away.  And this day, Saturday  May 9, on Mother's Day weekend, was a special day in Guadalupe. The main street was closed off, with police politely redirecting traffic for` The Guadalupe Ciglovia' event.

Guadalupe is transforming itself with real estate developers eyeing her long, straight, and  wide open main street, along with a myriad of old buildings ripe for renovation.  Michael Ritter knew when buying the building to house his father's lifeswork,  that this was a perfect little town. For the Gallery is not so much about selling paintings, as it is about letting the public see the art.  Michael told me he would have a very hard time letting go of a single piece because the paintings were all a part of his life. Christine reiterated the same sentiments.  When Michael and Christine were very young, Julian took the whole family for an extended stay in Mexico. He developed a love of the culture, the people, and their passion for life. It seems very fitting that Julian's Gallery be located here in Guadalupe.

Guadalupe Mayor, John Lizalde, stopped by and welcomed the Ritter's to town.  The myriad of painting represented Julian's take of the world. Fanciful creations with multiple figures, clowns, and  beautiful women  abound. Some haunting images, some bright and cheery, they came from places as far away as Punta Renas in Costa Rica, and Mexico of course . Portraits of his late wife Hilde, as well as portraits of a young Michael and Christine.  There were plenty of Clowns, including the very powerful "Clown Funeral".

In the back was a private space, not for the public, where  more large paintings were hung. Spectacular paintings, as large as eight foot tall, included formal  portraits that Sergeant himself would be taken aback by.  Julian Ritter was the ultimate artist. An Artist's Artist. He was obsessed and lived for his art. Born in Poland, raised in Germany throughout World War One, he began studying in Chicago, and then in Los Angeles at the behest of Stanley Reckless, one of the founding members of The Art Center School of Design.  Known as a Prodigy, he shot to the top of the art world early. Being hired to paint a 90' mural for the Mines and Minerals Building, at the International Exposition (1939) in San Francisco.  In   the early 40's he was shown at the Newhouse Gallery and later at the Modern Art Gallery  (later to become the Museum of Modern Art) in New York City.   He was hired by Otto Bismaryk, owner of the Bismaryk Hotels in Chicago to paint portraits and show at the Swiss Chalet Gallery. There, he would be invited to the Barnum and Bailey's Ringling Bros Circus and be mesmerized my the Clowns, the music, and the cascade of color.

His career would boom in the 50's creating major collections for clientele worldwide.  Two Collections, The Silver Slipper Collection in Las Vegas, and the Bimbos 365 collection in San Francisco, are still all together   Exploring the Art of Julian Ritter  will be the subject of an upcoming book and far to vast a subject for a magazine article, intended to be brief.

The 60's would bring tragedy for Julian with the death of his Beloved Hilde, from Cancer. Michael and Christine treasure the paintings they have of their Mother, and would never sell them.  From tragedy was spawned new hope and adventure. As Julian had always dreamed, he would set off to sail the world in his newly purchased 45' Yawl, the Galilee. Shortly before embarking on his adventure to clear his mind and his soul, he painted the portrait of  Adele Kokx's  17 year old daughter,  Laurie. Through a series of events, Julian was thrown in Jail down in Mexico. As fate would have it, it was a rebellious 17 year old who would arrange to fly to Mexico and bail  Julian out of jail.  Shocking everyone more, Laurie 17, and Julian 60, announced they would sail to Costa Rice then on to Tahiti. After three years in the Society Islands Laurie and Julian announced they were heading home.


The journey on the Galilee would be ill fated and resulted in a life changing event for both. Julian was not an accomplished sailor at all. When they encountered a strong storm, a hurricane as Julian reported it, they were unprepared.  The Galilee was severely damaged and they became adrift at sea. For 89 days, the drifted, and then miraculously, near death, they were rescued by the USS Niagara Falls.

Saved and alive they would return to Honolulu, and eventually to Summerland California, to live together.  Although they never married their relationship was based on love, mutual trust, and admiration.  During this time Julian eschewed selling through Galleries and developed a handful of "Patrons" who supported his work, and bought everything he produced. He had always been a prolific painter, and he remained so. But much of his work became dark and introspective.  Exploring issues of God and Spirit, Sexuality, and the relationship of men and women,  and life itself.  

Laurie and Julian remained together almost 20 years, until an incident in which Julian felt betrayed, and at the same time which Laurie felt Julian was completely overreacting. Nevertheless, they split up and Julian moved to Maui, Hawaii to live with his son Michael.  They built a big multi-story studio for Julian to paint in, and in the last twist of fate, Julian would have a massive Stroke seven months after the studio's completion, and never be able to paint productively again.  I learned to know Michael during this time and gained great respect for him He loved his Father and took care of him all during the time he was sick. Julian passed away at the age of 90, ten years after his Stroke.  Laurie Kokx passed away at the young age of 54, under mysterious circumstances, in 2006 in Ojai.

The Gallery in Guadalupe, to be called the Julian Ritter Gallery, or The Ritter Gallery, by any name , is dedicated to the memory of Julian Ritter, and to honor the amazing cadre of fine paintings and art produced by during his lifetime.    

I was honored to be invited to attend the opening with the family. Delighted to see Christine after such a long time, and to meet her children Bryan and Melissa, as well as the great-grand children.  It was indeed bittersweet. We were all able to go out afterwards and share a meal at Trattoria Uliveto and Bar, a  wonderful  and delicious Italian Restaurant nearby.

With this newest Article in Splash Magazine, I kick off my new residence in Las Vegas.  I will be working on my book about Julian while here, as well as branching out with my photography business, and my art and painting.  I look forward to doing more work with Splash, covering events here in Las Vegas, and those you are accustomed to seeing me cover in both Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

I encourage you to take a little day trip to Guadalupe and see the new Ritter Gallery. There are some really nice restaurants, and you are just adjacent to San Luis Obispo where,  by the way, there is a great little Artesian Winery, Autry Cellars.  Tell my cousin Steve, Greg sent you.

Keep those cards and letters coming in, now let's make Las Vegas Jump.  I'm here .   

Julian Ritter Estate retains the copyright on all art.

Estate Paintings remain the property of the Julian Ritter Estate.

Images used herein are used with permission.

For information about Julian Ritter's Art, and the Gallery, Contact Greg Autry, or see the Julian Ritter website.


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