Renowned Seaside artist, gallery owner and philosopher Billy Lutz has adorned the new South County Community Food Bank with a mural representing its mission to provide food to those in need. Local painter Billy Lutz approaches each work as a storybook. From a single starting thought or concept, his pieces move through multiple layers of context to narrate a nuanced story to be read by the viewer.
Born in Michigan in 1951, Lutz did his first oil painting when he was 14. Over the years, his work became focused on what lies beneath the surface and themes, such as the environment and materialism, spiritual realities versus religious dogma, collectivism versus individualism and other dualities and paradoxes. His style is narrative painting that represents his complex philosophies. “Painting seems to be the way I pursue my thinking,” he said.
One of Lutz’s latest works adorns the entryway of the recently completed South County Community Food Bank on North Roosevelt Drive. Absorbing an area on the wall several feet tall and wide, the acrylic painting depicts a fruit tree laden with apples and bright leaves and bearing a thick trunk leading down to deep roots.
Mary Blake, a member of the food bank’s board, said the organization wanted an image of a tree because it’s “symbolic of the cycle of life” and the pantry’s mission. “Food reaches everybody — so the tree really was for that,” she said.
To further reinforce the concept of natural harmony through connective movement, Lutz embellished the tree with his signature force rings, or geometric arcs suggestive of “all that exists that is unseen.”
Lutz earned an associate of arts degree from Northwestern Michigan College in 1972, but while college helped him loosen up and experiment with art, life experiences mostly have motivated the philosophical concepts embedded in his work. From an early age, Lutz was aware the world is filled with deep mysteries of which he was a part. He traverses these mysteries through his art. Lutz believes the concepts and ideas he encounters through his artwork are not unique but rather universal truths. In his pieces, Lutz often will make religious parables and ancient mythologies relevant to the modern world. For instance, in his series “The Beast,” Lutz follows the classical myth of the hero who fights the beast only to be consumed or defeated by it.
While humans are naturally inclined to fight traumatic experiences or afflictions, Lutz said, those “beasts” are invincible and fighting against them only will harm the individual. To truly overcome their demons, people instead must learn to accept them. Lutz related the series to one of his own “beasts,” which is a hereditary degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa that started at age 47 and has slowly impaired his vision. Instead of being consumed with a desire to regain sight or fight the disease, Lutz reconciled himself to his condition and re-emerged slightly altered but with a new perspective and more established priorities.
“The myth states that you do have to accommodate your beasts, your demons. They’re not going away,” he said. “Nietzsche said it, Jesus Christ said it, Somerset Maugham said it and James the brother of Jesus said it. Sometimes in order to overcome your demons you have to embrace them. So it’s not something I invented, but I happened to tap into it.”
With only 15 percent of his eyesight remaining, Lutz has developed a specific technique to continue painting large works. He draws a smaller representation and then an assistant will create a graph for the image on its final destination, such as the wall in the food pantry. From there, Lutz can focus on one small section of the painting at a time. As he’s painting, he said, he often will take photos of the work in progress or view it in a mirror. The strategy allows him to see the full work, although scaled down, and focus on a point.
When it comes to subject matter, Lutz usually starts with a thought he has previously jotted down in his notebook. As he’s working, he’ll develop that thought or allow it to work its way forward. “The original idea blossoms into something more complex,” he said. He tries to keep his paintings in the present tense, because as soon as an experience has passed there exists the potential to remember or analyze it incorrectly or with the wrong perspective. “I’m not trying to create life, I’m trying find meaning as it happens to me,” said Lutz.
That philosophy is evident in his life. Because of this sense of adventure and courage to live on the edge, Lutz has traveled often and lived in multiple states as new goals presented themselves to him. He has supported himself through freelance sign work, but he keeps his art separate and not the means to his and his family’s livelihoods. He prefers to donate his talent and produce his work for public consumption. “I tried to keep money out of it for philosophical reasons,” he said. “Money creates its own motives, and I wanted no influence on my painting.”
One of Lutz’s key philosophies is the paradox that people find their true individual purpose when they are giving to a collective unit, whether it be family, community, a loved one or any other person. “There are self-evident facts that you’re hooked to the collective whole and you can only realize that by being a true individual,” he said. “That’s where you find your true individuality is your devotion outward, not inward. … Everything expands. Life expands.”
The food pantry is an example of collectivism through which individual purpose can be found, Lutz believes. A lot of people donated their time, money and services to the organization and continue to do so.
T. anjuli’s gallery is located in the Historic Gilbert District. Billy Lutz, owner/ artist has participated in the Seaside First Saturday Art Walk for years.
To view more of Lutz’s work, visit http://www.billylutz.com/contact.html or T.anjuli Salon & Gallery, at 7 North Holladay Drive.