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Since 1985, the annual Argentina Copello Dudley Memorial Lecture at the Corcoran Gallery of Art has hosted a broad range of art historians, educators, and curators. Two years ago, administration of the lectureship was transferred from the Corcoran Women’s Committee, a fundraising group, to the gallery’s education department, under the direction of curator Susan Badder.
That small administrative change had an appreciable effect. In 2000, for only the second time since the lecture series was established, an artist, sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, spoke about her work. And this year’s talk continued what Badder says she hopes will be a new “tradition” for the gallery: Andrew Stevovich, 53, painter and printmaker, spent an hour and a half last Saturday afternoon taking an audience of older patrons and young artists with notebooks through a lifetime’s worth of slides, stopping to muse about his influences, his techniques, and the problem of imposing meaning on paintings.
Stevovichwhose Interior With Nadine hangs in the Corcoran’s north atriumpaints elaborate, precisely rendered, brightly colored scenes that look like illustrations for unpublished stories. Each is populated by a shifting rogues’ gallery of gamblers, cardplayers, and diners engaged in mysterious activity. The figures are squat but not unattractive, distinct individuals with heavily stylized features that transform them into elements in a broader pictorial pattern. The artist’s titlessuch as Carnival and Shopping for a Hatset up the scenes, but only partially.
“Paintings are like mirrors to me,” says Stevovich, who takes his inspiration from daily experiences and dreams, drawing always from within. At openings, he says, he’s learned to never tell someone what a picture “means.” “It immediately limits whatever creativity is going on,” he says.
Born in postwar Austria, Stevovich grew up in Washington, where he attended St. Albans School in Northwest. During the late ’60s, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where his move toward figurative work put him at odds with most of his fellow students, who found his early scenes of contemporary life “square.” That taught him to ignore the opinions of the everyday art world. Stevovich, who has lived just outside Boston since the ’70s, looks back to the portraits of quattrocento Italy, with their large foreheads, stylized features, and solid, almost abstract color-block backgrounds.
As for his contemporary influences, some are immediately apparent: Fallen Diva looks like Edward Gorey by way of Balthus, and all the womenand menin Stevovich’s paintings have the solidly spherical shapes and stillness of Balthus’ 1955 Nude Before a Mirror.
“The elements of abstractionto me, that’s more important than what the people are actually doing,” Stevovich says. Garance Franke-Ruta