For more than 35 years artist Scott Covert has travelled around the world visiting the graves of celebrities and icons and taking rubbings using oil stick, charcoal or chalk. Titled the Monument and Lifetime Drawing series, the works began in 1985 with a visit to the grave of founding member of the Supremes Florence Ballard and a work he titled The Dead Supreme (the name the artist now uses on instagram). This exhibition at Studio Voltaire in London is his first solo show outside of the USA.
Beyond simply being memento mori the works are always aesthetically interesting. Covert’s colour choices on the big composite works are simply beautiful. And the minute hand drawn hatching and checker-boarding around the simpler rubbings are meditative, almost obsessive. Part folk art, part psychedelic doodling. There’s contemporary/modern art world echoes inevitably. The frottage of Max Ernst. The “action” of the abstract expressionists. And “Pop”. Literally, with the appearance of the names of numerous Warhol Superstars, but also, of course, with the elevation of other kinds of celebrities – icons, cultural figures and obscure cult heroes.
The visibility of the mark making, the traces of movement of the oil stick on the surface as it moves across and around the engravings, seems almost ritualistic. A physical prayer at the graveside.
Many of the included names are enough to trigger an instant image of what the letters represent. Ghosts conjured with a magic spell. Raised from the dead. A communion with the spirit world. And where multiple names are juxtaposed onto larger canvases they trigger a kind of sensual cacophony where the music/image/voices/artistry/infamy of characters like Eddie Cochran, Truman Capote, H P Lovecraft et al, overlaid and enmeshed play out in your head as if key elements of 20th Century culture were happening all at once.
Covert refers to the names as characters. He casts them in his work and the art is reminiscent of the closing credits of a never-ending movie. And for something with its very root in death the work is strangely life affirming. There have been some incredible people in the world. And there continues to be so. That’s life. And it’s a real blockbuster.