“Having worked in set design, I’ve always been behind the scenes, never the star of the show” surrealist painter Storm Ritter said. At first glance, you would think Storm just stepped off a movie set in the 1960s. Long wavy hair, amber colored glasses, silver rings, silk scarves and bell bottom pants. But don’t be fooled by her cool, laid-back, artsy vibe. Storm is a forced to be reckoned with. She radiates every quality a modern-day businesswoman aspires to be. The multi-hyphenate is an artist, a business owner, an entrepreneur, and a self-described “bad ass bitch.” In a world often dominated by men, Storm has cleared a path for herself through hard work, determination, and imagination. “Storm Ritter Inc. is a business, it’s a brand, it’s a designer, it’s an artist, it’s all of those elements” she explained. “But it is my real name.”
In a world often dominated by men, Storm has cleared a path for herself through hard work, determination, and imagination.
“When I was 18, I was taught in school that you can’t make it as an artist just painting on canvas, so for me the journey was learning how to take my paintings and reproduce them on textiles, T-shirts, and jewelry” she explained. “When I paint, my brain automatically starts splitting the image into different ways I can market my art.” Using this creative method, Storm works on multiple pieces concurrently, such as a large tapestry, a leather jacket, and a small canvas, working back and forth between each piece. This technique not only creates visual continuity between each element in her collection, but it also ensures her customer base is broadened, providing beautiful pieces for everyone from avid art collectors to young fashion icons.
“Cool people have no gender; they are whatever people perceive them to be, they can be human, or spirit guides, or symbols of mystical power. They are very close to me.”
As a spiritualist painter, Storm keeps her feet grounded in business, while her heart and mind continue to thrive artistically. For Ritter’s second solo exhibition, “Cirque of The Cool People,” currently showing at Gallery23 NY, she created esoteric visions based in spirituality and mystical imagery. In the surrealist silhouettes called “cool people” that she first started painting in 2014, the line across their head represents the divine, while a candle or flame is a symbol of internal enlightenment. With their arms uplifted, the fantastical figures reach for inspiration from both above and within. “Cool people have no gender; they are whatever people perceive them to be, they can be human, or spirit guides, or symbols of mystical power. They are very close to me,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that Bad Fortune Enlightens and Good Fortune deceives.,” she said. “I never specifically place symbols in my pieces. They usually develop organically which makes my subconscious dominant, so the flames are my little eternal inner light.”
“If you notice, the cool people aren’t completely filled in because nobody is entirely fulfilled. It’s divine to acknowledge that yearning is a human quality we all share that keeps us alive.”
“If you notice, the cool people aren’t completely filled in because nobody is entirely fulfilled. It’s divine to acknowledge that yearning is a human quality we all share that keeps us alive” she said. It’s that very unfulfilled desire that motivates Storm to expand her reach far beyond the painted canvas. Storm, who found her calling after designing the set and puppets for a local theater production of The Little Shop of Horrors, moved to New York City in 2012 to attend Tisch School of the Arts, and later the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Her work resumé grew to include wardrobe production for Saturday Night Live, as well as editorial fashion jobs for Vogue and Marie Claire. In 2015, the artist branched off into retail, running a brick-and-mortar store Storm Ritter Studio in the heart of Greenwich Village. The iconic store, famous for its bold visual imagery and eclectic vibe, became known for hosting parties, live music, DJs, celebrity clientele and television productions crews.
In early 2020, when the pandemic sidelined her plans for relocation, Storm changed course and focused on ecommerce through her retail website where she currently sells paintings, tapestries, framed prints, painted fashion and jewelry. Always one to keep her eye on the silver lining, Storm used her own scrap fabric during the pandemic to make face masks, thousands of which were donated to essential workers. She continued to work from a home studio, seeking creative ways to challenge herself, both as an artist and businesswoman. She used Zoom classes to mentor kids, including a troupe of New York City Girl Scouts that later visited her solo show.
This creative ingenuity is not new to her. In 2014, the ambidextrous artist taught herself how to paint with both hands because she felt under stimulated using the same repetitive motions. Ritter played piano for ten years, and uses an “organic duality” painting technique of alternating between her hands as she would on the piano. While listening to music for motivation, she alternates using brush strokes with both hands; her right hand forms the structure of the silhouettes, while the left hand adds emotion and soul, making them come alive.
It’s this amalgam of the senses that gives birth to the ethereal quality of the cool people, while the canvas becomes a mystical landscape that transcends space and time.
From a young age, Ritter was musically inclined, but it wasn’t until recently she realized her brain processes information in a unique way. Ritter believes she has synesthesia, a mental process in which the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell overlap or are perceived together. As Ritter described, “when I hear music, I see numbers and colors. If I combine numbers, the colors change. It’s why I had such difficulty with reading sheet music when I was young because the symbols, colors, and sounds would overlap and change.” It’s this amalgam of the senses that gives birth to the ethereal quality of the cool people, while the canvas becomes a mystical landscape that transcends space and time. “Most of my work focuses on the idea that we can escape inside of minds and souls to find answers.”
While being synesthetic as a child may have gone undiagnosed and inhibited her growth as a competitive concert pianist, Ritter now harnesses the power of her mind to create a multi-dimensional diaspora on each canvas. Many of her paintings include musical symbolism, such as treble clef or a metronome, “sometimes I’ll put very clear objects in my composition, but then the symbolism becomes more abstract. The number of dancing mermaid flowers I paint coincides with the music I’m listening to, which also dictates the colors” she explains. Each piece transports people into an esoteric space of divine magic filled with halos, crowns, and astral projection.
Ritter’s signature old world vibe has been heavily influenced by the process of aging props she perfected while working in theater production. She replicates the weathered aesthetic onto her tapestries by using leather paint mixed with acrylic to mimic an aged artifact. Her goal is to one day design a set for an opera or a ride for Disney, the perfect marriage of her painting style, set design and musical influences. If one observes closely, the framing of each tapestry or canvas mimics a proscenium, the curtain of a theatrical stage, while the cool people in their ethereal dance are surrounded by orchestral elements.
While some in the theater production may believe that Storm is too young to design an operatic set, she has already proven her prowess by painting a 60-foot outdoor mural on her own. In early 2022, Storm used her ambidextrous style to hand-paint the mystical imagery of “Age of the Cool People” using an elevated lift to reach new heights. The surrealist mural depicted The Earth, The Sun, The Star, and The Moon with influences of tarot, zodiac, numerology and palmistry spread throughout.
While Storm’s signature style summons upon the days of old, the artist maintains flexibility by keeping one foot in the future and one in the past. In the fall of 2020, Storm’s her first solo show at Gallery23 titled “Realm of the Cool People” featured tarot inspired paintings such as Aquarius Moon, Three of Pentacles, and Seven of Swords. These spiritual elements harken back to Storm’s college years when she befriended the iconic psychic to the stars, Frank Andrews. The influence of his teachings on tarot and palmistry continue to be seen scattered throughout her paintings today. With her eye on the future, Storm’s painting titled “The Sator Sea” was converted into a digital NFT (non-fungible token) as part of a scavenger hunt for the NYC Crypto Fair. For Storm’s next endeavor, she plans to design a tarot deck, a companion book, and an NFT campaign.
Although Storm has become an expert in marketing opportunities for her work, her ambitions remain focused on gallery and studio art. Storm Ritter’s current exhibition Cirque of The Cool People is on view at Gallery 23, located at 807 Washington Street in the West Village. In collaboration with Pollinate Art, Storm will discuss “How Artists Build Authentic Brands” during a salon series artist talk scheduled for Tuesday, November 15th.