Describing David Kreitzer's paintings as realistic renditions of fantasy sounds oxymoronic, but that's what he does in depicting scenes from “The Ring of the Nibelung.” The Richard Wagner opera is loosely based on Teutonic and Norse mythology.
As opera has played a key role in Kreitzer's life, pairing his paintings with an upcoming production is a perfect match.
“I got into opera in the 1970s,” said the 68-year-old artist, who became a fan while living in San Francisco.
Like an opera, his life is not without tragedy. For six years, Kreitzer, by then a Los Osos resident, was married to dramatic soprano Jean Cook, founder of Pacific Repertory Opera in San Luis Obispo, until her death from cancer.
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They had met backstage after she performed in “The Ring” in Seattle, which is where the widower later met Jacalyn, a mezzo-soprano who performs at opera houses worldwide. They just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
On Saturday, Opera San Luis Obispo sponsors a televised live performance of the New York Metropolitan Opera's “Die Walkure,” one of four full-scale operas that “The Ring” comprises.
To complement the event, Kreitzer is exhibiting some of his original paintings at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and will display prints at the Performing Arts Center lobby from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the opera airs May 14.
Kreitzer's watercolor and oil exhibit, “Ring des Niebelungen,” features gods and goddesses, mortals and monsters. His portrayals include Siegfried battling a dragon, warriors astride soaring steeds, comely norns gathered on stormy beaches and swimming Rhinemaids as dappled as his koi ponds.
Kreitzer's oeuvre isn't limited to fantasies, however, nor is his style consistent. “I've never thought about style,” he said, repeating advice from his first dealer: “You paint each painting the way it wants to be painted.”
That an artist should “progress” from realism to abstract is an assumption that Kreitzer never accepted. All painting basically boils down to “spots and dots and blobs” anyway, he said. Told in graduate school that realism was considered illustration and not art, Kreitzer went along with that distinction to get his degree, although he chuckled about it then, and now. He was also urged to teach rather than to pursue art as a career.
Following a brief struggling-artist period of living without heat in Nob Hill, existing on peanut butter sandwiches, and drawing caricatures at nightclubs to get by, Kreitzer has been a successful artist for more than four decades. By persistently toting his portfolio to San Francisco galleries, Kreitzer found a dealer who gave him his start.
Celebrities such as Michael Douglas, Mary Tyler Moore and Ray Bradbury have bought his work through galleries that have represented him in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York. His early 1980s commission with the Seattle Opera for “Siegfried” and “Tristan and Isolde” resulted in a worldwide demand for these posters that continues today.
“The highest compliment I can get is if someone says 'That makes me feel good,'” said Kreitzer, the son of a Nebraska minister. “Painting itself is an active form of meditation,” he continued.
“I believe the foundation of art, of all the arts, is to be healing, and everyone knows the healing properties of color.”