Were you to visit the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, or the Louvre or, perhaps, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and witness a distinguished older gentleman interpreting on his sketchpad every nuanced detail of Aphrodite or Pierrot, or another equally compelling masterwork, there is a high likelihood that gentleman is Ted CoConis. At 90, he remains devoted to this time-honored practice, to humbling himself before the masters even as he now uncomfortably wears that mantle himself.
His has been a long and storied career: As an honored and awarded illustrator, turned celebrated fine artist, Ted CoConis took a circuitous route to the world of art. He won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago during his grade school years, but instead of working toward academic success, he abandoned his formal education, added a few years to his age and trained as a pilot with the US Air Force near the end of World War II. Ted CoConis was honorably discharged a year later when his young age was revealed. He tried applying himself to an academic life, enrolling in Chicago’s American Academy of Art, but the fit was no good - he joined the Merchant Marines instead ending up in Russian-occupied Romania.
An unexciting life has never been his forte and, as an artist, CoConis’s great gift would soon become the celebration of those characters who live by following their own unique path. Upon his return to the states, at the advanced age of 18, Ted CoConis went to work illustrating for the publicity department of the Fifth Army in Chicago. Restlessness set in again and CoConis headed to Las Vegas then Los Angeles and on to San Francisco, where he landed his first freelance commission as an illustrator. When a major art studio in New York recognized his talent, he followed the call and quickly established himself as one of this country's preeminent illustrators of books, magazines and film posters.
Ted CoConis was commissioned to create paintings for film posters such as Hair, Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, and the cult classic Labyrinth, among others. Paintings by CoConis appeared on album covers and in every major magazine from Cosmopolitan and Playboy to Ladies' Home Journal. His art graced the covers of countless books, including those of Vladimir Nabokov and Jerzy Kosinski. James Michener chose Ted CoConis to illustrate for him and CoConis illustrations grace the Newberry Award-winning children's book Summer of the Swans.
Ted CoConis now holds the honor of having been inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame.
Such acclaim may have led others to retire but in the 1980s Ted CoConis decided to turn his attention solely to the creation of his own fine art. He, by then, was living in both Paris and the Greek Islands. The call of the next lucrative and prestigious assignment was an ocean away. This is when the seeds of his singular style truly bore fruit.
His paintings frequently began as plein-air sketches in the public gardens and cafes of Paris where CoConis discreetly captured those very characters he had often recognized for their own off-beat beauty. A series Women of Paris emerged: lyrical, yet psychologically probing celebrations of women who, with utmost insouciance are bursting societal constraints, shattering stereotypes and rejoicing in their own power and presence. And, as CoConis describes them, “are sublimely content in their solitude and fulfilled by their own companionship.”
A masterwork by Ted CoConis offers not just a figurative subject but an impression of each subject’s sense of their own reality. We see areas of fine detail, a face, perhaps, or long delicate fingers, with other areas of his subject not nearly as defined, as though she lives not entirely in our own physical world but in a world of her own choice and imagination. Participating in our world to the degree that she must. Her own world surrounding her in transparent layers of detailed reality. CoConis has mastered the technique of layering near-translucent layers of oil paint one atop another until a viewer is convinced they see well beyond the surface of his canvas. Ted CoConis brings us reflections and reality, imagination and lyricism. There is very little space between the artist’s mind and what he presents to the viewer as a result of his never-ending quest to achieve greater and greater results.
“My paintings are getting more interpretive, with richer tones, more lyrical with less realism. Over the years each is moving deeper into what I’ve always been painting,” notes Ted CoConis. “I always have the idea of doing something better than I’ve done before.” This core belief not only represents the artist’s intense humility but explains his continued drive as well.
“I live a fantasy life,” CoConis explains, describing the isolated studios from which he works, leading his life dedicated solely to being an artist who produces paintings. It is not a life that harbors the worldly intrusions that can weigh the rest of us down; it is a life that outwardly reflects his inner world.
These paintings born of the devotion to his vision have been widely exhibited at galleries, museums and public and private institutions. Prestigious organizations and individuals own work by Ted CoConis: The Bishop Museum, The Boca Raton Museum of Art, Jim Henson Associates, Lockheed Martin, Piper Aircraft, Readers' Digest Association, United Artists, The US Air Force, The US Army, Universal Studios, the late Jerzy Kosinski, Erich Segal, and Vladimir Nabokov among many others.
See the video presentation about Ted CoConis created by the Society of Illustrators: Click Here