Color and abstraction move in to the Wichita Art Museum

Exhibition of Kansas native Sue Jean Covacevich brings charged works to the public.

As you walk into the first floor Kurdian Gallery at the Wichita Art Museum you are immediately struck by the color and vitality that surrounds you. Featured within these gallery walls is the first retrospective exhibition of Kansas abstract artist Sue Jean Covacevich.

Covacevich was born in Wellington, Kansas in 1905 and made her residence in Winfield until she passed away in 1998. She was mainly influenced by the colors and techniques of Birger Sandzen as well as the socially charged work of renowned Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. In 1930 Covacevich moved to Mexico where she would live for the next 12 years. During this time, Covacevich studied at the San Carlos Art School in Mexico City and was actually critiqued by Rivera.

This time proved to be of great importance to the artist, as she would spend the next several years developing her artistic style and finding inspiration in Rivera's vibrant murals, to which Covacevich paid homage in her own murals commissioned by the First National Bank in Winfield in 1951. She was also an influential art teacher both in Winfield and in Derby. She later applied her teaching skills to the field of art therapy for the mentally challenged at Winfield State Hospital.

Covacevich's style is diverse and energetic. As you look at her work, there are hints of the cubist forms of Braque and Picasso as well as the rich, bold colors of Cezanne and Gauguin. Covacevich, however, has a style that is uniquely and incontestably American. Where many of her paintings reflect the warm colors of the Kansas prairies and the American Southwest, her prints of regional landscapes and nature display the curvilinear line work and precision demonstrating the influence of her mentor, Birger Sandzen. A nice addition to this exhibition are the two Birger Sandzen works "An Arizona Sunset" (1912) and "Mountain Landscape" (1917-18), currently on view in the permanent collection galleries of the Art Museum.

Teresa Covacevich Grana, the artist's daughter, says, "I am thrilled that this exhibition is at the Wichita Art Museum. My mother loved this museum. It is an honor and is so important that there is now recognition of regional women artists."

This exhibition is rich with culture, color and diversity. Her work has an appeal on many levels whether it is her use of different media, its strength of line and form, or connectivity to Kansas, this retrospective exhibition is absolutely worth taking in. The works featured in the exhibition are on loan from Covacevich's daughter, Teresa, and Emprise Bank.

Sue Jean Covacevich: Pioneer Kansas Abstract Artist will be on view at the Wichita Art Museum through Jan. 14.