A Special Ink Spill “Kovarsky Wednesday”: Anatol Kovarsky’s Russia

 Since this past Fall, Wednesdays here at the Spill have been referred to as “Kovarsky Wednesdays” as we’ve posted some of the late great artist’s unpublished cartoons and cover art (Mr. Kovarsky’s daughter, Gina refers to them as “sketches and preliminary forms of ideas for covers”).  All of this work is in celebration of Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From The New Yorker, an exhibit opening tomorrow at the Society of Illustrators, with a special reception on January 12th.

Though long an admirer of Mr. Kovarsky’s work for The New Yorker, seeing these unpublished pieces over the past few months has deepened my respect for the energy and enthusiasm with which he lived his art. From what I’ve learned of him, from meeting him, reading about him, speaking about him with his family, he was always working.  And what work! The show is a must-see. 

In celebration of tomorrow’s opening, the Kovarsky family has generously provided us with three proposed cover pieces specifically related to Mr. Kovarsky’s Russian heritage. In addition, we are indeed fortunate and thankful that Gina has contributed the following piece, expanding our understanding and appreciation of her father and his beautiful work.

Since 2017 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I thought I would share a few details about how it affected my father Anatol Kovarsky’s life.  He was born into a prosperous and assimilated Russian-Jewish household in Moscow in 1919.  But the social and political unrest that came in the wake of the Revolution put his family at risk.  His father was arrested by the Soviet secret police and jailed in 1923 or 1924.  When he was released three months later, Anatol’s parents understood that they had to leave home and took him south to Crimea, then onward to Warsaw. They remained in Poland until WWII, when they were once again forced to leave everything behind. (His parents and sister survived the war in France; Anatol was able to leave Europe for the U.S., later joining the army and returning to Europe as a U.S. serviceman.)

My father was about 4 or 5 when he and his parents left the Soviet Union, but he remained fluent in Russian until the end of his life and never lost his identification with the Russian part of his heritage.  In the early 1960s, at a time when the Soviet regime had inaugurated a policy of greater openness to the West, my father made several sketches for a proposed New Yorker cover depicting American tourists on Red Square.  The presence of Western tourists in the heart of Moscow would have seemed positively incongruous to him, given how unimaginable that type of travel had been for decades.  History, a supreme ironist, was offering a corrective to misplaced certainties. 

Anatol took heart at the gradual resumption of ordinary tourism after Stalin’s death, regarding this as a positive sign that a new era of peaceful coexistence was at hand.  It meant a great deal to him that he was able to travel to the USSR in 1979, and that on subsequent visits in 1989 and 1990, he could observe first-hand the remarkable changes that led to the regime’s collapse in 1991.  He aptly noted that we were witnessing a “revolving revolution,” but the new banners were advertising Pepsi and McDonald’s instead of calling upon the proletariat to unite. 

In these cover ideas, my father manages to poke fun simultaneously at both the Soviet and the Western (capitalist) ideological orientations.  The sketches comment ironically on the waning relevance of Communist ideals, by minimizing the presence of Communist emblems: in the first sketch, the star above the modern hotel in the background is rendered not in red, but in grey wash to fade into the background.   But the humor also derives from Anatol’s portrayal of the consumption-oriented perspective of the “bourgeois” visitors with their cameras and, in the second sketch, also of the home movie audience.  There are two focal points in the movie: St. Basil’s with its colorful onion domes, and also the woman in the colorful hat.   By providing the woman with her own bright “dome,” my father creates a visual parallel, cueing us to realize that in the husband’s eyes both objects in the viewfinder are of equal importance.  Or is it the American woman’s presence on Red Square that’s the key element, to mark the spot, as if to state, “we were here” and also perhaps, “look at us!”   (What would Dad have made of the ubiquitous selfie?)

  

Anatol’s earliest memory was of the circus in the resort town of Yalta in Crimea, when he was around the age of 3 or 4.  He remained forever enamored of the circus, to the point where he even had a special pass to sketch the performers and animals up close at the old Madison Square Garden (he remembered once getting too close to a lion and being chased away by the personnel).  During the 1960s, the Moscow Circus was a special favorite of New York audiences, and I remember going with my parents several times. Among my favorite paintings by my father are ones he did of the Russian circus horses and their daredevil riders. 

 

–Gina Kovarsky

Dec. 30, 2017

(Please note that all work by Mr. Kovarsky posted here on Ink Spill is copyright the Estate of Anatol Kovarsky)  

 

 

 

Unseen Kovarsky, Pt. 3! More Unpublished Work by the Great New Yorker Artist

Here at Ink Spill, we are celebrating the upcoming must-see exhibit, “Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons from The New Yorker” at The Society of Illustrators.

  This is the third in a series of unpublished artwork by the late great Mr. Kovarsky, who contributed to The New Yorker from 1947 through 1969. My sincerest thanks to the Kovarsky family for sharing these pieces with us. 

Note: all work shown here is copyright the Estate of Anatol Kovarsky

 Today’s post is book-ended by two pieces titled “Season’s Greetings” — the one above (dated 1969) and the black & white drawing appearing at the end of this post. In between, three drawings with subjects Mr. Kovarsky returned to over the years. If you happened to have read the piece on this site few years back about the Spill’s visit with Mr. Kovarsky you might remember that his wife, Lucille, told us that the large studio Kovarsky once used in lower Manhattan was divided in two: one part for doing drawings, the other for paintings. Lucille said, “He would switch from one to the other.”  I can’t help but believe the division blended from time-to-time resulting in the many many drawings he did of an artist at his easel such as the multi-panel piece below from the mid 1950s.  Kovarsky was one of the few New Yorker artists able to produce an abundance of un-captioned work. The Trojan Horse drawing (directly below the artist & model multi-panel) is an excellent example.

 

More Unseen Kovarsky: Unpublished Cartoons and Covers!

Here at the Spill we’re celebrating the upcoming Society of Illustrators exhibit, “Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From The New Yorker” by presenting unpublished cartoons and cover art by the late great artist. Enjoy!

— all work shown here courtesy of the Kovarsky family; all art copyright the Estate of Anatol Kovarsky. 

Below: The Kiss (c.1955-1962)

Below: Caroling on Fire Escape  (a sketch for a series of holiday cards, 1959)

 

Below: Holiday Shopping (cover idea sketch c.1960s)

Mr. Kovarsky’s entry on the Spill’s A-Z:

Anatol Kovarsky (photo above, NYC, 2013. By Liza Donnelly) Born, Moscow. Died, June 1, 2016, NYC. Collection: Kovarsky’s World (Knopf, 1956) New Yorker work: 1947 -1969. Link to Ink Spill’s  2013 piece, “Anatol Kovarsky at 94: Still Drawing After All These Years”

 

Unseen Kovarsky: Unpublished Cartoons and Covers From the Late Great Artist

A special treat!  In celebration of the upcoming exhibit at The Society of Illustrators, Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From the New Yorker,  the Spill is presenting unpublished work by this wonderful artist who contributed cartoons and covers to The New Yorker from 1947 through 1969. Today and next Wednesday, and possibly even a few more Wednesdays after that, I will  post cover sketches and drawings generously provided by Mr. Kovarsky’s family.  My sincerest thanks to them for allowing us to see this beautiful work.

— Note: all the work shown is copyright the Estate of Anatol Kovarsky.

 

— And for those who may have missed it, here’s a link to the Spill piece on Mr. Kovarsky from the summer of 2013, “Anatol Kovarsky at 94: Still Drawing After All These Years”

 

 

A Rafter of Kovarsky Turkeys; A Favorite Thanksgiving Cartoon Revisited

A Rafter of Kovarsky Turkeys

Thanks to the generosity of Anatol Kovarsky’s family, here are a number of the artist’s unpublished sketches (mostly turkeys, plus a few chickens) as well as an unpublished sketch of his Thanksgiving New Yorker cover of November 24, 1962 ( the finished cover art appears as well). Mr. Kovarsky’s work will be celebrated this coming January in an exhibition at the Society of Illustrators.

 

For more on Mr. Kovarsky, who passed away in 2016, here’s a Spill piece from 2013, “Anatol Kovarsky at 94: Still Drawing After All These Years”  (this piece also appeared on the New Yorker‘s website in a slightly edited form).

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A Favorite Thanksgiving Cartoon Revisited

The above drawing by Bob Eckstein appeared in The New Yorker, November 26, 2012. It remains one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving cartoons.  When it appeared I asked Mr. Eckstein a few questions about it:

Michael Maslin: Bob, your drawing, The First 3-D Thanksgiving, is, I believe, the first 3-D cartoon in the magazine’s history (if anyone out there finds another, please bring it to my attention).  Is it actually 3-D?  If I was wearing 3-D glasses right now, and looking at your drawing, would it be appear three-dimensional?

Bob Eckstein: It works, but not as well as it could, but that is by design.  It is 3-D but we reeled it back.  Knowing the reader wouldn’t have glasses, I went for the most readable degree of 3-Ding the cartoon so it still looked like a cartoon and not this heavy ominous image on the page which would have distracted from the joke.

MM: We should probably give a shout-out to Norman Rockwell, whose famous 1942 Saturday Evening Post “Freedom From Want”  piece is obviously referenced in your drawing.  Did you have Rockwell’s work in front of you when you were working on your finished piece?

BE: I had it in front of me, and underneath me, as I did trace most of the guy in the back and then glanced over to draw the rest of the set-up.  My initial sketch had the whole family shocked at the dancing turkey but it looked too forced and too different from the Rockwell iconic piece.  I realized Rockwell had it right the first time except he forgot the glasses.

 

 

 

George Booth on CBS Sunday Morning; John Held’s 1927 Cover; More Spills: Lars Kenseth, Tom Toro

The one-and-only George Booth, whose life work, as regular visitors to the Spill know, is currently being celebrated at The Society of Illustrators, will be featured in a CBS “Sunday Morning” segment this weekend.  Info here.

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Attempted Bloggery continues to find fun stuff.  Today it’s a John Held, Jr cover for a 1927 Yale- Princeton Football game.

Below is a snippet.  To see it all, go here.

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Lars Kenseth has joined Darlycagle.com.

Tom Toro has announced that his work is now available on Artsugar.