Frank Covino Academy of Art

Sugarbush Valley, Waitsfield, VT


The history of Frank Covino's one man Art Academy begins with the immigration to New York City of the Mazzeo family from a small fishing town near Palermo, Sicily, called Trapani. Salvatore Mazzeo was an academically trained artist who would have preferred to support his family of four girls and two boys with his classically Italian schooled artistic capacities, but Mulberry Street and its Greenwich Village environs was listening to different drummers in the early part of the 20th century.

Left: Frank and his Mona Lisa copy from the original, The Louvre, Paris , November, 1996 (click on image to increase its size)

Fauvism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism had announced the death of Realism, and Hilda Carmel's Gallery on Tenth Street gave credence to the emperor's new clothes by featuring the distorted images of Rothko, de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, while Rockefeller collected the scribbles of Franz Kline. Fortunately, the confused immigrant was also a trained barber, so he managed to feed the family. Salvatore would soon be a grandfather of Francesco Covino, Jr. after his youngest daughter Katerina would marry a letter carrier / part time professional boxer, Francesco Covino.

The depression years were tough, but government workers were reasonably secure. The security comforted Francesco Sr., whose first nineteen years were spent in a Farmingdale Orphan Home, so he kept the job of mailman for the next thirty years. Eager to raise an American family, Katerina's husband did not encourage their children to speak Italian; he changed his name to Frank and began to call their first born Frank Junior, certain that the boy would follow in his dad's athletic footsteps. He was in for a grave disappointment.

Above right: Covino teaches the Verdaccio underpainting system of 16th century Florentine Masters, with color intensities weakened by neutral grays. Lean Flake White and Chromium Oxide Green are darkened with Mars Black for this process to ensure longevity. Students are encouraged to paint on untempered masonite, coated with three applications of a bonded marble gesso; Frank's "Rennaissance Gesso" has the true marble grit of the product described by Cennino Cennini in"Il Libro delle' Arte" (circa 16th century), with far more porosity than any other contemporary product. Its tenacity is strong enough to permir textural additives like Knox gelatine and sand for creating tactile interest, as seen in the stone and barnacles of this demonstration.

Above: Close-up of Covino's portrait of Diane Miles reveals the subtle gray-green halftones betwen his warm shadows and warm local color areas.

Frank, Jr. was small, the shortest kid in his class all through grammar and junior high school. To compound his humiliation, he was the only boy in the New York Italian neighborhood who wore glasses, crushed on a monthly basis by schoolyard bullies, who took delight in beating the frail child on a regular basis. Frank, Sr. took pride in coaching the high school baseball team, but Frank Jr. coulan't throw or hit the ball. He was ridiculed for even trying. He cried in his room a lot, and, after seeing some of his grandpa's drawings, he began to sketch.

Right: For strong chiaroscuro, Covino prefers the warm brown undertones of Titian, rendered with a "rub out" approach called togliere strofinando, described and demonstrated by Frank in his videotape series.

Frank, Jr.'s sketches were not stick figures; he could draw anything he could see with extraordinary precision. His mom recognized the gift and supplied pencils for the child, proudly showing his work to her husband every day when he returned from the post office. These drawings were usually snickered at by the tough mailman, who would often respond "They'll never get you anywhere in this life. Get a job to busy your idle time. Art is a starving occupation, full of fruit cakes!"

They were a little strange: the long-haired boys on Tenth Street, but Frank really liked to draw. It was something he could do inside while his peers played baseball, and, inside, he could wear his glasses, without shame. Besides, the weirdest artists of Tenth Street weren't artists at all, in the boy's mind. They couldn't draw, so they eliminated realism and self-expressed, a euphemism for untalented attacks upon canvas by legions of the technically inadequate.

Left: Pioneer pastiche by Covino proves the versatility of the Venetian togliere strofinando approach.

Since there was no way the poor Italian family could support his college education, Frank Jr. enlisted in 1950. The government offered four years of college expenses in exchange for four years of service. His thoughts of an art education at Pratt Institute, if he returned, may have kept Sergeant Covino alive during the Korean War months. Spartan survival toughened the soldier enough to earn him a spot with the USAF Boxing team, Welter-weight division, after Panmunjon, and Frank counted the days to his Honorable Discharge. He couldn't wait to begin his freshman year in 1954.

Right: Covino reasons: "The complexion of a model is as unique and important as the alignment of her features.It can and should be duplicated."

But Frank waited too long. The reputable Pratt Institute had weeded out all the Classical Academicians by that time, and the Self Expressionists and Abstract Expressionists had well entrenched themselves on the faculty. For his Classical Art Education, the veteran had to cross the East River, to visit one of the finest art museums in the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art not only offered great treasures of art from the Renaissance, but it also displayed some unfinished art of the Masters, which offered many clues to the mystery of their procedure.

Frank learned the early processes by copying from these Masters, and from researching Renaissance literature available just a couple of miles south of the Met, at the New York Public Library. Visits to his "grandpa" helped to fill in some of the gaps, but, when Leonardo da Vinci's "Treatise On Painting" was finally translated into English after 400 years, many of the questions in the mind of Frank Covino were soon clarified. He began to write his first book, "The Fine Art of Portraiture," (Van Nostrand-Reinhold, 1970); it was published almost 20 years later.

A talent search by a correspondence art school in Westport, Connecticut lured Frank to the famous artist's school in 1959 where he was hired to critique paintings submitted by distant students, after reading their seventh instructional chapter. Frank taught there for three years, continuing to organize the thoughts for his first book. It was a great job, and there was a paucity of instructors who could teach portraiture, so Frank had carte blanche for his letters of critique and for his corrective paintings, but he missed the interpersonal contact.

Above: Seven years of Covino's guidance has elevated Marianne Billingsley of Boulder, Colorado to professional standards, but graduation from apprenticeship has not stopped her from attending Academy worksops. Right: Beginning students are encouraged to duplicate "Old Masters" enabling Covino to guide then through time-tested academic principles. "Significant art," defends Covino, "can only follow a thorough analysis and duplication of significant art. Copying the Masters with qualified guidance is how the Masters themselves learned how to paint."

In 1962, he began to teach a private class in the Classical Manner of Oil Painting at the Museum of Art, Science and Industry, in Bridgeport, Connecticut,. This led to the formation of his own school, the Frank Covino Academy of Art, which he conducted for 30 years, and to the publications of Discover Acrvlics with Frank Covino (Watson-Guptill, 1974) and Controlled Painting (North Light Pub., 1982), two highly informative books that were "sold out" just two years after publication.

Frank's teaching schedule was combined with private portrait commissions that included Socony CEO, Verne Bellman, actress Gloria Swanson, singer Marvin Gaye, film star Dinah Shore and RJR Nabisco's Ross Johnson, among many other corporate executives and their wives. He is also the artist who sculpted the Slammy Trophy for the World Wrestling Federation.

Above: Self-portraits are also encouraged at the Academy. Right: Student Art Morello of Trumbull, CT reveals the Covino Controlled Pallatte, modelled after a description by Giovanni Boltraffio, a student of Leonardo da Vinci.

Another bronze sculpture by the artist may be seen in Riverside Park, Westport, CT. Covino's shocking five by eight foot portrayal of the second coming of Jesus, titled Return of The Lamb....As A Lion stirred the emotions of thousands of parishioners at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut for several years, before it closed its doors. the powerful, judgmental Christ has been hanging in the artist's studio waiting for another Christian home. His Pieta has also sparked some controversy, as it depicts a questioning Mary, less resigned to the fate of her Son than the familiar Mary of Michalangelo's marble.

Left to right: Frank Covino's Pieta, Return of the Lamb...As a Lion, detail of Return of the Lamb...As a Lion

Painting the Mother of Christ with more Semitic features, the sardonic artist vented his disapproval of the "false Saccharin images of Mary seen in so many prints, looking like a blue-eyed Irish Catholic with a turned up nose."

Left: Frank Covino and student Bill Hoopes

In 1992, Frank Covino closed the doors to his Academy to begin nationwide workshop seminars, which he conducts to the present day.

The Frank Covino Academy of Art is alive and well, as Covino delivers seminars annually to semi-professional artists and art appreciators from Anchorage, Alaska to the Gulf shores of Florida. He has invented some useful art products advertised on his web site: Also listed is his annual workshop schedule plus descriptions of ten "Art On Video" instructional tapes featuring the versatile artist performing with oils, acrylics, pastels and clay. A new art book by the artist is currently in process.

Text and images courtesy of Barbara Ellis Covino

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/20/10

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1998 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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