July 21, 2021

Travels with Covacevich

        Sue Jean Covacevich (USA, 1905-1998) spent some formative years in Mexico before settling in Kansas, but clearly she travelled widely and used the monuments she saw on those travels as subjects for block prints.  In general, Covacevich’s work is solid, workmanlike mid-century style, and while her style and technique don’t seem particularly distinctive, it is a style I always like.  What makes her work especially interesting, though, is the subject matter: fascinating buildings, both famous and less-so, with all their wonderful shadows, angles, and architectural details.
        Covacevich has the largest preponderance of images of Mexico, which is not surprising as she lived there for ten years.  I’ve included two today, both dating from 1941, but with very different lighting.  The first is brightly lit with strong 
outlines to all its edges.  I especially like the clouds, and 
the contrast of the flat white arch against the heavy clouds.  Looking through gateways is always a motif that appeals to me, and here I like the steps heading up to the hill, although I am curious about the view.  Are we looking out of the gate away from a large church or other complex, or in at the gate toward a destination that is far enough to be out of sight?  By contrast, the second piece shows not an open gate, but closed walls.  We can see the buildings but can’t get in.  Instead of bright light on flat surfaces, we see dark shadows on textured surfaces.  Once again, though, there are lots of interesting architectural details suggested through relatively rough carving.
        Next we travel to Spain to see a street corner in Malaga.  Unlike today’s other pieces, this is presumably not a landmark or particularly famous spot, but simply an interesting snippet of the city.  It is also the only piece today that doesn’t depict a religious building.  I like the blacks and whites of the walls and the texture of the roofs.  The sky is interestingly angular, with its sharp lines instead of trying to look like puffy clouds.  The over-all roughness of the carving gives texture to the walls and street that suggest a rustic feel.  Combined with the irregular architecture, it makes the street corner look organic rather than the result of modern city planning.
        I’ve always wanted to go to Mont-Saint-Michel, and Covacevich’s depiction of the famous abbey and town just adds to my desire.  This piece is more detailed than some of the others, with its many small outcroppings of architecture and rock.  She’s done a really masterful job with the shapes and textures of the rock, and all the little windows, arches, and turrets.  I also like the sweep of the sky and the hint of reflection in the bay at the bottom.
        And finally, the famous St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow, another celebrated architectural extravaganza.  Although the black and white of the block print doesn’t show the wild exuberance of color for which the church is famous, it does make a great medium for pattern.  Once again, Covacevich has used her relatively rough carving style to suggest a great delicacy of detail.  Interestingly, the outline edges of the domes are not uniformly smooth, but are rather jiggly in several places.  Whether this was a deliberate choice or a by-product of the way Covacevich carved the sky, I don’t know.
        Covacevich was another of those artists for whom I had picked about twice as many images I wanted to share, and then had to cull them down to fit in a manageable post.  But if you’re curious, you can scroll through the link below to see more (plus random other paintings and sketches).  She obviously loved travel and ornate architecture, plus, of course, block printing — all things that I enjoy, too.

[Pictures: Gateway to El Calvario, block print by Sue Jean Covacevich, 1941;
Del Carmen Convent, block print by Covacevich, 1941;
Street Corner, Malaga, Spain, linoleum cut by Covacevich, c 1955;
Mont-Saint-Michel, block print by Covacevich, undated;
St. Basil, linoleum cut by Covacevich, undated, (All images from Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art).]

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