Artist Linda Gritta is an interpreter. Metaphorically, of the emotions and memories she translates into thickly-colored paintings, but literally too, as an interpreter in sign language.
For a long time, it was to that literal field of interpretation that Gritta devoted herself. Despite growing up with a passion for the arts, Gritta initially chose a different path. “It didn’t seem practical when I was deciding what to do in college, with all those voices that say ‘no, you’ll never make it as an artist,’” she remembers. “I came from a family of teachers, and my grandparents were deaf, so my first degree was in deaf education. On the side I did my own artwork, and I thought I was going to be a ‘dabbler.’” Gritta raises her fingers into bent quotation marks around the word “dabbler,” and pauses. “Somewhere around my mid-thirties, I realized that just wasn’t going to be enough.”
With two young kids in one arm and a handful of doubt in the other, Gritta enrolled at Converse College and pursued another degree in Fine Arts. Over the years she devoted herself not just to the craft, but to the study of it, traveling north to New York to study at the NY Studio School and the Art Students League of New York whenever she could, and at Penland locally. “My degree gave me solid classical training, and all the other things I sought out allowed me to find my own voice,” Gritta says.
As she began to find stable footing as an artist, a new challenge arose in the form of a divorce. Like so many now-Ashevillians, Gritta headed to the mountains for solace and new beginnings. “I’d visited Asheville enough times that I knew it could be a nice place to regroup—that was 12 years ago,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know anyone, but I met many other artists, musicians and dancers. It felt like pulling your ship into a port city where everything was available.”
Gritta found so much in Asheville: success as an artist, healing through dance, and her husband (who she met doing the Argentine tango). Now she’s one of Asheville’s most sought-after artists, juggling solo shows (including one next spring at UNCA) and commissions. Gritta’s popularity means she receives dozens of requests from organizations for donations every year, and there’s one group to whom she always says yes: the Western North Carolina AIDS Project.
“Their impact is so direct to changing lives and saving lives,” Gritta says of the organization. This year her work, “Red is Feeling Brave,” was selected as winner of the Signature Piece competition for the annual Raise Your Hand Auction & Gala, which took place on September 23.
Like much of her work in recent years, “Red is Feeling Brave” is thoroughly abstract, a swirl of crimson and umber that asks the viewer to look closer and think harder. “I love to really dialogue with each painting, it’s like cooking without a recipe,” Gritta says of the welcome challenge of abstraction. “It feels especially creative and takes me to a different place. I like that the viewer then is also invited to get out of their rational brain. There’s no easy out, you can’t engage at only a rational level. Abstraction invites them to play a little, and I don’t think in our daily lives we have an opportunity to do that, to relax our rational brains.”
As Gritta points out, it’s all a matter of interpretation.