Artist Snapshot: Sylvie Covey

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions

sylvie covey interview
Sylvie Covey in her studio, 2020

At what age did you decide to become an artist?
I was around eight-years-old when I made that serious decision. Partly it was because I just loved to draw and paint, and partly to honor my mother. She was an artist, but she had us, four children close in age, and had to give up her career. That was in the 1950s.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
Both my parents were delighted. I grew up in a household where art was appreciated and encouraged.

Who are your favorite artists?
Leonard de Vinci is my God. He personifies intelligence, creativity, and talent. His mind transcended centuries. His inventions and the complexity of the mechanisms he created foresaw multiple facets of human development. I find his drawings and paintings exquisite and profound. I love the work of William Blake, Odilon Redon, Anselm Adams, and Ronnie Landfield, among others.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
Robert Rauschenberg. He made giant steps in printmaking. He, and Jasper Jones, contributed enormously to advance graphic arts. Rauschenberg, in particular, pioneered the photo transfer process, incorporating newspapers clips, to add the actuality of news to the transfer of a printed image onto another surface, such as canvas.

Art book you cannot live without?
Printmaking: History and Process by Donald Saff and Deli Sacilotto, This book is now outdated and out-of-print, but it greatly contributed to my development, and partly inspired me to write my own book, Modern Printmaking.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Boldness, raw emotion, innovation, independence.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Not anymore, but before I ever owned a camera, as a young artist I travelled the world with my sketchbooks. I made a watercolor diary of my eighteen-months journey through South East Asia.

What’s your favorite museum in the entire world?
Le Louvre when I am in France, MoMA when in New York.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
The ASL’s printmaking shows, every year.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?
A writer. I love a profession where you can only depend on yourself to produce the work. I read a lot, fiction and historical novels.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?
Yes. My first boyfriend in France, Yves Prince, encouraged me to apply to this glamorous art school in Paris, and I got in, with him. We studied together. I also had two older Polish friends who were building an etching press at that time, and that picked my curiosity. I chose to study printmaking when I was 20 years old, and never stopped. I am still learning.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
How to relate to the world. I was so naïve. For a very long time I thought art was all about esthetics, beauty, grace. I did not look at other dimensions, such as distortions, unbalance, pain, darkness. Now I try to reach both, very much like in nature, there is life and death.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?
Rembrandt’s etchings and Mary Cassatt’s aquatints, because their prints are exquisite. I also love Swoon’s giant linocuts. I admire her boldness. She elevates street art to the top.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
My garden, the fields and landscape around my house.

Do you listen to music in your studio?
Yes. I listen to classical music. My two favorites are Mozart’s Requiem, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I also listen to jazz.

What is the last gallery you visited?
I was in Paris in January, just before the pandemic started. I went to the Musee Beaubourg in Paris. I also saw Kiki Smith’s exhibit at the Musee de la Monnaie.

Who is an under-rated artist people should be looking at?
Vincent Longo. He passed away two years ago, and left an incredible legacy. He was my mentor when I was at Hunter College for my MFA.

What art materials can you not live without?
My etching press. Brushes, paper, and ink.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
No. Many days I daydream and absorb what is around me. When I am ready I am very fast in producing art. I always work in series.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?
When I lost my husband to leukemia in 2007, I did nothing creative for about three years.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I read and walk around in the countryside. If I am in the city, I go shopping.

What are the questions that drive your work?
The mystery of life and death, our existence.

What is the most important quality in an artist?
Having something to express that relates to others.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
So many things! I learn everyday. Right now I am learning botanical printing.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
Art is now instantly accessible.

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