SPRING HILL — The paintings evoke messages of helplessness, fear, courage and hope. But anyone who knows the story behind Patricia Ritter's emotive works can certainly appreciate their importance to the artist.
Ritter, a cancer survivor, began putting her experience battling the disease into a series of oil pastel paintings she has dubbed A Mermaid's Tale: Surviving the Stormy Seas of Cancer. Her hope was to chronicle her struggles, while giving hope to others facing similar challenges.
"I'm an artist, and this is how I express myself," said Ritter, 55, of Spring Hill. "I found myself suddenly facing a horrible reality, a dramatic change in my life. My hope was to somehow convey the feelings and emotions that I've gone through and to inspire others not to give up hope."
The five portraits, which are on display in the lobby at CenterState Bank in Spring Hill, chronicle Ritter's ordeal, from her diagnosis of gynecological cancer in 2008, through two surgeries and rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and finally to her recovery.
The renderings are unique in that in each one Ritter portrays herself as a mermaid. She explained that over time she has come to view the mythical creatures as spiritual symbols of courage and fearlessness; they offer a sort of alter ego to her normally demure personality.
"When you are faced with a cancer diagnosis, you suddenly feel very isolated," she said "Your friends and family are encouraging you, and you have wonderful doctors and nurses caring for you. But in the end, you are forced to reach deep within yourself to find the strength to pull you through."
Although brightly hued, the paintings capture an emotional roller coaster Ritter faced as she battled her illness.
In Mermaid's Misfortune, as Ritter pondered her diagnosis, her mermaid character is trapped helplessly in a net. Her loved ones, portrayed as fish, swim about in a show of support.
Her successful surgery at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa is captured in Escape, in which Ritter portrays her surgeon as an octopus rescuing her from the disease.
Ritter, who had formal art training in Michigan, felt it was important not only to convey her emotions, but also to do so in the mosaic impressionism style she developed several years ago.
"I felt a need to stay close to the quality of work I normally do," said Ritter, whose work has been shown in several Hernando County galleries. "While they are very personal paintings to me, they also represent my values as an artist."
Although she remains cancer-free, Ritter considers her battle against the disease far from complete. Her goal is to sell individual paintings and prints to raise money for cancer research.
"I don't think anyone who has been touched by this disease ever totally lets go of it," she said. "You try to pass along what you've learned and experienced from it. Every bit of encouragement you can give can go a long way in helping others."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.