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Litz shows off artwork in Lake Placid

Renowned skater and coach combines sport and art

Tommy Litz poses next to one of his "Dreamscapes" at the Lake Placid exhibit.
Tommy Litz poses next to one of his "Dreamscapes" at the Lake Placid exhibit. (Jocelyn Jane Cox)

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By Jocelyn Jane Cox, special to icenetwork.com
(07/21/2008) - Tommy Litz, former U.S. champion, U.S. junior champion and winner of the freestyle events in both the 1964 worlds and Olympics, has just had an exhibit of his artwork, entitled "Dreamscapes," at the Olympic Center Hall of Fame in Lake Placid, N.Y. Though Litz has a background in oil painting, he is now working with photographs, using a method he calls "phototivity."

Litz describes phototivity as a photographic process that "involves editing and redistributing specific areas of different images into a congruent artistic entity." For example, he combines different elements, like the body of a skater, a hand, a violin and a flower, then continually reconfigures these images using the software program Photoshop until he achieves the desired effect.

Inspired loosely by the work of artists like Georgia O'Keefe and Salvador Dali and dancers such as Martha Graham and France's Sylvie Guillem, each of Litz's pieces has evolved through hundreds of hours of late-night "insomniatic consciousness." What connects all of his pieces thematically is not just their surreal style but also their use of the skating or dancing form.

Litz says, "Artwork featuring skating can be corny or quite beautiful. I love seeing a really great pose. To abstract that is difficult to do well, but it's very interesting to me."

Having been a competitor and now a coach for over 35 years, Litz believes that all this experience and training in the sport has helped him with his current artistic endeavors. He's dedicated to whatever he's passionate about and confesses that he may spend 20 hours just trying to get a skate blade to look exactly the way he wants it.

Litz credits his father with first helping him to see the more creative side of the sport. Though his dad was a steel worker and "a real tough guy," he was intrigued by figure skating and introduced young Litz to it by taking him to the 1956 U.S. Championships in Philadelphia. There, they watched legends such as Carol Heiss Jenkins and the Jenkins brothers compete. Young Litz was specifically drawn to the skating of Tenley Albright -- he noted that her focus was more on the artistic side than the athletics.

Litz remembers that when he was a junior-level skater, his father would take him to the Hershey Sports Arena on Sundays, when the rink was closed. He'd sit up in the stands playing Litz's music over and over on the record player so that his son could go through his program. He'd call out things like, "What you're doing isn't tricky enough!" and "Every step has to go to the music!" By Litz's admission, this was a unique perspective for a steel worker of his time, for someone who boxed bare-fisted with the other guys for money.

Once Litz's amateur career ended, he performed as the star of the Ice Capades for eight years, taking over Ronnie Robertson's position. While there, he worked with choreographer/producer Bob Turk. Over the years, Litz was influenced creatively by both Turk and fellow soloist Aja Zanova. By the end, he was doing "some pretty crazy, offbeat, production numbers," some of which were comedy and some of which required Litz to be a bit of an actor.

Later, Litz would go on to enjoy choreographing unusual programs for students such as Priscilla Hill. Though he mostly focuses on jump and spin technique these days, when he choreographed, he attempted to take skating to a whole other place.

While at the New England School of Art and Design, Litz discovered that he had an eye for color, drafting and spatial relationships. There, he was encouraged by painter Harry Bartnick. His busy coaching career then took him away from painting for many years, but Litz remembers attending an exhibit of Toller Cranston's work in Ottawa and being absolutely blown away. Eventually, he was inspired to return to his artwork, albeit in a different medium than before.

Litz intends to continue to work with the same themes and further explore abstractions of the skating and dancing forms. He couldn't be more pleased with his phototivity exhibit, held June 13-16. "While everyone was having a good time, talking to each other about the art and buying pieces, it was like seeing myself in a movie. It was playing out just like the fantasy."

Litz can be contacted about his work at tommylitz@hotmail.com.