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Nocturnal lifestyle inspires Litz to create 'Reverie'

1963 U.S. champion explores dance in his artwork
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Tommy Litz does most of his art work at night, at a time when he says his mind is in a kind of dream state. -Courtesy of Maria Castaldi

During his eight years touring with Ice Capades, 1963 U.S. men's champion Tommy Litz got used to staying up late and sleeping past noon. When his show days ended in 1972 and he began coaching in Lake Placid, he had to adapt his schedule, given the fact that his typical wakeup time was around 6:00 a.m.

Now semi-retired from coaching -- he has no regular students and only helps out other coaches now and then -- Litz has resumed a nocturnal routine, which has enabled him to focus on his longtime passion of art. Sixteen pieces created over the past decade are being shown at the Noho gallery in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. The show, titled "Reverie," opened Dec. 10 and runs until Dec. 21.

" 'Reverie' comes from the fact that I'm a night owl, so I do most of my work in the wee hours after midnight," said Litz, 68, who placed sixth at the 1964 Olympic Games. "With art, that's the time when I can really let go and sort of get into a dream state. It's something that really takes over me.

"Allows me to be completely in the moment," he continued. "I kind of ride with that. Sometimes, I will go from 12 or one o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock in the morning."

When Litz, who is credited as being the first skater to land a triple toe loop, first settled in Lake Placid, he began studying oil painting with Harry Bartnick at the Center for Music, Drama and Art. Bartnick, who recently retired as a professor of art at Suffolk University in Boston, is a painter and photographer and often worked in the style known as photorealism, which he taught Litz.

Litz had a successful coaching career -- working with students such as Priscilla Hill, Charlene Wong and Jill Watson (before she took up pairs in the early 1980s) as well as cutting a piece of music for the late John Curry when he was in Lake Placid training with Gus Lussi. Litz is proud that several of his students went on to become coaches and that their students became national champions.

About 15 years ago, when he decided to wind down his coaching, Litz began to gravitate away from oils and do his artwork on computer. He continued to coach but started traveling to various rinks to work with other coaches, giving the skaters various exercises that would improve their jumping technique. It wasn't practical to bring his paints with him, but he was more invested in art than ever.

"I had this vision that I wanted to do something in art on the computer," Litz said.

His initial work focused on skating. The pieces in "Reverie" are centered on classical ballet and modern dance. The process begins with him capturing an image of a dancer. He then digitizes the piece, which includes compiling several different images and fusing them in a complete entity, describing it as "abstract" and "surreal." At times, there are as many as a thousand edits until the picture is complete and ready to print and frame.

In addition to Bartnick, other influences on his work are Dr. Maria Castaldi, a surgeon Litz met at Wollman Rink in New York's Central Park who now acts as his agent; Leon Yost of Noho gallery; and Litz' ex-wife, Glenda Litz, who he calls his muse.

"My most powerful inspiration when I work comes from the fact that I realize my work and what I'm seeing at this point in time in its conclusionary form is only touching the surface of what is hiding mysteriously in the back of my mind," Litz said. "My mind being like an empty room. Sort of like a ghost running around in my head, teasing and playing hide and seek. I'll know it when I find it."

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