Artist Ted CoConis reflects on his career and how it began with a youth scholarship to SAIC.
by Micco Caporale (MA 2018)
Tucked between the fir trees on the Bold Coast of Maine hides artist Ted CoConis’ solar-powered studio. When he is not taking sojourns to Paris to sketch café scenes or reproduce master drawings at the Louvre, CoConis divides his time between this remote wilderness and a sleepy little fishing village on the Gulf coast of Florida. With Kristen—whom he describes as his wife, model, and muse— at his side, CoConis paints in relative solitude, reflecting on a rich illustration career spanning more than 70 years. His first step on this charmed vocational path began with a scholarship to SAIC.
When CoConis was a child, SAIC awarded scholarships to students at local grammar schools for lecture and studio classes—an early model for today’s Continuing Studies program. Like many 13-year-olds, CoConis poured his imagination into countless notebooks, and while known among his classmates as a good artist, he never thought much about his abilities.
“[Being awarded a scholarship to SAIC] made me feel that I was more than just an ordinary kid who liked to draw,” CoConis says. “I was someone who had a certain amount of skill.”
Though his time at SAIC was short, his tutelage under faculty like Dudley Craft Watson had a lasting impression. After a two-year stint in the Air Force (which a 15-year-old CoConis doctored his baptismal record to join), CoConis entered the Merchant Marine. After one long journey to Russian-occupied Romania, he followed the encouragement of an Air Force colonel and began putting his artistic talent to use.
CoConis went on to develop an iconic style of carefully designed and meticulously crafted figurescapes in lavish washes. His art has graced movie posters, book covers, and record sleeves throughout the world. Some of his best- known works include the movie poster for Labyrinth and the album art for Weldon Irvine’s Sinbad.
In 2013, he was inducted into the Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame, and he has been profiled in art magazines from Art Nouveau to Hi-Fructose. Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov—for whom he did a book cover—was among CoConis’ earliest collectors. Despite all his successes, CoConis still looks to his SAIC scholarship as a touchstone for inspiration.
“When I was growing up in Chicago, it was a tough kind of life,” CoConis recalls. “The word ‘scholarship’, and what it represented, goes way beyond what it did at the time. It has become something I look back on to give me fortitude to keep trying.”
Now in his late 80s, CoConis is still a deeply committed fine artist, spending every day in his studio and continuing to put on the occasional gallery show.
“Believe deeply in art,” he encourages young artists. “Study the work of others and develop the skills to express your own vision. As an artist, you can’t start out being concerned about making money. That has to come later. Work hard to achieve your personal goals and don’t be overly concerned with the financial rewards.”
Continuing Studies courses helped set Ted CoConis on the path to a long and successful career as an artist. See our current offerings for youth, high school students, and adults at saic.edu/cs.