An Interview with Niki Covington

I was raised near Tokyo, Japan, but spent my youth in Northern California. After having returned to Japan to serve a two-year mission, I have lived in Ohio, Utah, Ecuador, New York, and Italy. As a classicist, my studies have taken me to study forms of art and architecture in Italy, Greece, Israel, Croatia, France, Switzerland, Turkey and even back to Japan. The chance to have been exposed to so many parts of the Lord's vineyard has been critical to my understanding of art that transcend both time and space.

Christ Calling Peter and Andrew (2015) by Niki Covington. Patinated Hydrocal or Bronze. 32 x 32 x 5 in.

Christ Calling Peter and Andrew (2015) by Niki Covington. Patinated Hydrocal or Bronze. 32 x 32 x 5 in.

Among some wonderful people who inspired me from my youth, including my father and mother, is my great grandfather, Isaac Loren Covington. He was a pioneer and one of the first painters in the Mormon church whose paintings still adorn many old buildings and temples in Southern Utah. A great artist with no formal training, I have thought of him often during my many years of training and felt his encouragement.

I have had many conversations with remarkable artists dedicated to the the cause of grafting the fine-art tradition back to its sacred roots. Many of these have taken place silently, and in my own mind, with those of the past--Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Borromini, Phidias, Lissipus, Juvarra, Guarini, Piazzetta, and Bloch--as I stood in front of their workmanship. These men have labored long for the common cause of "restoring the sacred to the somatic, spirit to the flesh, that art may give place for piety, inspire reverence for that which is holy, and give voice to the divine nature common to us all." As an artists carrying forth the same standard I believe we have an obligation to "speak to the past, and it shall teach thee".

The Presentation at the Temple (2016) by Niki Covington. Watercolor on Paper. 11 ½ x 8 ½ in.

The Presentation at the Temple (2016) by Niki Covington. Watercolor on Paper. 11 ½ x 8 ½ in.

My studies have evolved as my vision have expanded. After my undergraduate degree, I studied painting and drawing at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. After two years, I was led to resume my studies in New York at the Grand Central Academy, and began taking architectural theory and history classes at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. Thanks to kind mentors, it was in New York that I was introduced to the vision of Un bel Composto, the synthesis of the fine arts, and began a serious three-fold study of paining, sculpture and classical architecture. My goal was to not only play different instruments, but learn to be a composer. As the Classical Architecture program at Beaux-Arts Atelier moved from New York to Salt Lake City, I was among the first on board and spent 10 week of immersion in Rome with a great scholar, Michael Djordjevitch. Later I was awarded the Prix de Rome Prize, which allowed me to return to Italy and study in depth the language of classicism. As part of My Prix de Rome Grand Tour, I traveled to study in Italy, Croatia, Jerusalem, Japan, and Istanbul, chasing different ideas and forms from East and West which engrained in me the richness of ideas and forms of the classical tradition.

Over time the vision of Un Bel Composto has lead me from painting, sculpting and then to work with architecture with the goal of creating an visual symphony. I believe that the fine arts must ultimately come one under a single purpose: Transcendence to the realm of the sacred.

The Breath of Life (2014) by Niki Covington. Patinated Plaster. 12 x 12 x 30 in.

The Breath of Life (2014) by Niki Covington. Patinated Plaster. 12 x 12 x 30 in.

For me the realization that Painting, Sculpture, Architecture are really the same thing despite the difference in materials, was a breakthrough freeing me from fearing the difference in materiaIs. I imagine that is how music composers thinks: instruments matter little - strings, brass, wood or hid-it is how they are brought together in symphony that matters. I love to watch the mastery of material by a great master. I once saw a Japanese calligrapher with a brush and ink on white rice paper. Quietly, meditatively, with bridled burst of movements he made his strokes, he never blinked nor changed the rhythm of his breathing. To watch his movement, discipline, having practiced hundreds of thousands of strokes in his lifetime in order to make that one energetic yet so bridled stroke, moved me deeply. I believe that is what training does; it is not about the particular painting but the thousands of paintings and studies that came before that allows the masterpiece to be created. It is the tens of thousands of thoughts and lessons that have traversed his mind past and present.

In any work, I begin with making study of meaning, then study of precedent, and then study of form, in that order. My goal is not to create something 'new', but something that hearkens back to, and brings 'remembrance' of something we have seen or felt before; the jogging of our spiritual memory to something they have felt or experienced. The paining, sculpture or architecture, through the language of beauty, is merely a threshold into that realm of the sacred, where all things are brought to our rememberance. This is a guiding principle in the conception of any work of art. The rest is labor, sweat and even tears to create proper form and dress it with appropriate symbols.

Portrait of Christ (2016) after Carl Bloch by Niki Covington. Oil on Linen. 12 x 18 in.

Portrait of Christ (2016) after Carl Bloch by Niki Covington. Oil on Linen. 12 x 18 in.

The single most important thing for me has been to to know my tradition. For me this means gaining an understanding of the the long lineage of art, it's role in society and history, what and how it has served mankind. There is a devastating lack of understanding of the artistic tradition among young people, which has lead to such confusion among rising artists regarding the role and function of art. Clearly Michelangelo was trying to serve a greater cause, and not trying to 'express his inner child'. A student has to do some heavy truth-seeking to discover the nobility of our lineage and the calling of an artist. The Classic Point of View by Kenyon Cox is a great beginning for all aspiring artists I think.

I would love to design art for temples, as part of an unfolding story using architecture, painting and sculpture. This was the goal of Bernini, who coined the term Un bel Composto, or one beautiful whole, where the three sister-disciplines comes together to serve the greater story. I am currently working on a funerary monument/sculpture for my grandfather who recently passed away. I love funerary monuments. Wherever I travel in the world, I make it a point to visit their cemetery, where some of the best art and architecture can be seen. The monument to my grandfather uses ancient symbols, motifs and geometry such as laurels, fillets, and libation bowls to hearken to sacred ideas about resurrection, eternal life, and the sealing power of eternal marriage. I hope to add figurative relief-sculpture to tell more of a story. Other works in progress include painting of Joseph and Christ-child, inspired by a Piazzetta painting I studied in Venice.  I have always wished to design a family mausoleum, a type of a temple, where family members can be buried together to await the resurrection. Using the best in classical motifs of architecture, ornament and figurative sculpture, possessing power symbolism that hearkens to the awaited resurrection. I imagine an interior designed with stained glass and even painting, a place of beauty, rest and holiness. 

Help Thou Mine Unbelief (2012) by Niki Covington. Oil on Linen. 40 x 25 in.

Help Thou Mine Unbelief (2012) by Niki Covington. Oil on Linen. 40 x 25 in.

I hope my art will bring rememberance of a memory long before we entered this mortal present. Such art, I think, exists outside of time and is timeless.

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Njcovington.blogspot.com

nikicovington@icloud.com