John Covert


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Painter. Active primarily between 1915 and 1923, he contributed to the New York dada spirit that flourished in the circle of Walter Arensberg, his cousin. In his paintings, Covert may have been the first American artist to incorporate non-art materials, such as the string glued to the surface of Brass Band (Yale University Art Gallery, 1919) to distinguish forms in its abstract design. Born in Pittsburgh, Covert began art studies there before leaving for Munich in 1908. After four years there, he continued to work in Paris until 1914. He renounced academic painting only after his return to the United States in 1915. Apparently introduced to modern art by Arensberg, he soon embarked on an experimental course influenced particularly by the example of Marcel Duchamp. Time (Yale University Art Gallery, 1919), among his strongest works, engages the viewer both visually and intellectually. Its casually disposed elements include numerous tack heads, as well as cryptic notations that refer to compass directions, geometry, and mathematical formulas. Water Babies (Seattle Art Museum) of the same year could hardly be more different. Presenting two dolls, one submerged in a container of water, the startling and unsettling image plays on Covert's interest, derived from Duchamp and Francis Picabia, in the equivalence of human and inanimate forms. Despite his originality, Covert found little support for his work. In 1923 he closed his studio and entered the family steel-related business. Although he did not subsequently exhibit his work or otherwise actively participate in the art life of his day, he painted a number of figurative works, as well as some landscapes. He also took photographs, mostly of studio models, and kept cryptic daybooks that include sketches and marginal decorations. He died in Pittsburgh.

Subjects: Art.

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