Editor's note: The Wichita Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Wichita Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Sue Jean Covacevich: Pioneer Kansas Abstract Artist

August 20, 2006 - January 14, 2007

 

The Wichita Art Museum is proud to present the first retrospective exhibition of the work of one of the State's pioneer abstract artists: Sue Jean Covacevich (born Wellington 1905, died Winfield 1998). Sue Jean Covacevich: Pioneer Kansas Abstract Artist is on view August 20, 2006 through January 14, 2007. (right: Sue Jean Covacevich (1905-1998), Iris, date unknown, block print. Courtesy of Teresa Covacevich Grana.)

Birger Sandzén, with whom she studied in 1927, was Sue Jean's first artistic mentor and throughout her entire body of work there is a debt to Sandzén.

"That debt is not noticeable in her style, for she was not one of the many students of Sandzén who mimicked his particular style and palette," explains Stephen Gleissner, Wichita Art Museum chief curator. "Rather, her debt is apparent in her expressive use of form and color, her dedication to the technique of block printing and her passionate belief that good art enhances life-even encourages a life well lived."

Another artist of Sandzén's generation who influenced Sue Jean is the great American modernist Marsden Hartley. Again, however, the relationship between the two artists goes beyond style: both looked to other cultures, such as Mexico or the American Southwest, to revitalize not only American painting but American culture as a whole.

In 1930 Sue Jean traveled to Mexico to see first-hand the new work that was reshaping and reinvigorating the tradition of mural painting. Foremost among these revolutionary artists was Diego Rivera, who critiqued Sue Jean's work during her residency at the San Carlos Art School. Sue Jean lived in Mexico for 12 years, returning to Winfield in the 1940s. Her murals for the First National Bank in Winfield (1951) pay tribute to Diego Rivera through their broad and inclusive depiction of local society and industry.

The Wichita Art Museum is grateful to the lenders to this exhibition: Teresa Covacevich Grana --Sue Jean's daughter -- and Emprise Bank.

 

Sue Jean Covacevich: Pioneer Kansas Abstract Artist

by Stephen Gleissner, Chief Curator, Wichita Art Museum

 

The Wichita Art Museum is proud to present the first retrospective exhibition of the work of one of the State's pioneer abstract artists:

Sue Jean Covacevich (born Wellington 1905, died Winfield 1998). Birger Sandzen, with whom she studied in 1927, was Sue Jean's first artistic mentor. Throughout her entire body of work there is a debt to Sandzen. That debt is not manifest in her style, for she was not one of the many students of Sandzen who never departed from his particular style and palette. Rather, her debt is manifest in her expressive use of form and color, her dedication to the technique of block printing (an example being the print illustrated here), and her passionate belief that good art enhances life-even encourages a life well lived. The print shown here, Iris, acknowledges Sandzen through its rejection of a literal and neutral representation of nature in favor of an attempt to capture the vital force that inhabits the flower.

Another artist of Sandzen's generation who influenced Sue Jean is the great American modernist Marsden Hartley. Sue Jean's painting As the Indians See It* shares with Hartley's work a bold use of high-key color and looseness of brushwork that almost electrify the painting. Again, however, the relationship between the two artists goes beyond style: both looked to other cultures, such as Mexico or the American Southwest, to revitalize not only American painting but American culture as a whole. Hartley and his colleagues suggested that American culture had become inbred. By engaging with visual traditions that had not been emasculated by the sophistication of the genteel tradition, these artists hoped to regain vitality in both life and visual expression.

In 1930 Sue Jean traveled to Mexico to see first-hand the new work that was reshaping and reinvigorating the tradition of mural painting. Foremost among these revolutionary artists was Diego Rivera, who critiqued Sue Jean's work during her residency at the San Carlos Art School. Sue Jean lived in Mexico for 12 years, returning to Winfield in the 1940s. The influence of her Mexican experience can be seen not only in her book Impressions of Mexico* and her print portfolio Churches of Mexico*, but even more grandly in the murals she executed here. Her murals for the First National Bank in Winfield (1951) pay tribute to Diego Rivera through their broad and inclusive depiction of local society and industry.

Paintings such as Monday Morning Wash* and August 1972* show Sue Jean moving from the example of her earliest mentors, who practiced an expressive realism, to pure abstraction. It is likely that she was inspired to create this pioneering abstract work by the writings of influential art critics such as Herbert Read. The boldness of her abstraction seemed to feed her zeal for spreading the word-and example-of an art of pure form.

The Wichita Art Museum is grateful to the lenders to this exhibition: Teresa Covacevich Grana -- Sue Jean's daughter -- and Emprise Bank. The Museum owes a debt to Ms. Grana not only for her generosity in making this large body of work available but also for her willingness to share her own rich experiences of art and its makers, always conveyed with a most contagious verve. Seeing her mother's art in the Kurdian Gallery makes clear the source of that energy.

* denotes works included in the exhibition

 

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Wichita Art Museum in Resource Library.


Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2006 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.