Anatol Kovarsky, also known as Akov, was a mid-20th century Russian-American painter and editorial cartoonist. Between 1947 and 1969, he drew numerous pantomime cartoons and designed several covers for The New Yorker. Two recurring themes in his work were the art world and Greek mythology.

Early life and career
Anatol Kovarsky was born in 1919 in Moscow, Russia. His father was a wealthy Jewish businessman who sold leather goods. Unfortunately, in the newly established Soviet Union, the rich class was suddenly suspicious. Around 1923 or 1924, Kovarsky's father was imprisoned for three months. Back on free feet, he decided to move his family to Poland. In Warsaw, they changed their name to "Kowarski". As a child, Anatol Kovarsky already had creative interests. After visiting a circus in Yalta at age 3-4, he developed a lifelong fascination with this form of entertainment. Later in his career, he would make dozens of paintings about clowns, acrobats, dancers and circus animals. In the 1930s, Kovarsky studied economics at the University of Vienna, taking drawing lessons in his spare time. Eventually, he followed his heart and decided to study painting in Paris. From 1937 on, he studied at the École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) and the Académie Lhote.

World War II
While Kovarsky had managed to escape Communism, in 1940 he faced another ideological threat: Nazism. As a Jew, his life was in serious danger. He fled to the coastal city Nice and was able to escape to Casablanca, Morocco. In December 1941, he took the last U.S. passenger ship accepting Jewish refugees and headed for New York City. When the boat was stationed in Cuba, Kovarsky learned that the Japanese army had attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the U.S. into World War II. He therefore enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was trained as a topographic draftsman. Soon he was back in Europe, taking part at the Allied Invasion of Normandy on D-Day (1944). Three months later, the young soldier helped liberate Paris. To everybody's luck, both his parents and sister survived the war. He stayed in Paris for a while, but in 1946 he returned to the U.S., where he studied painting at Columbia University and the Art Students League.

Cartoons
During his military service, Kovarsky drew humorous cartoons for the army magazines Stars and Stripes, Army Talks and Yank. In 1945, some of his work for Yank was reprinted in The New York Times. On 1 March 1947, Kovarsky published his first cartoon in The New Yorker. He remained a regular in the magazine's pages for the next 22 years. During his career, Kovarsky designed over 40 New Yorker covers. His cartoons later also appeared in Collier's, Life, Look, The New York Herald Tribune, Hugh Hefner's Playboy and Sports Illustrated. Most of his work was signed with the pseudonym "Akov". A collection was published in book form under the title 'Kovarsky's World' (Knopf, 1956).

Style
Although Kovarsky drew about a wide variety of topics, art is his signature theme. Many of his cartoons depict painters, sculptors, photographers, models, museums, curators, critics and museum visitors. Sometimes he directly referred to well-known artworks, such as Hokusai's 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' and Auguste Rodin's 'The Thinker'. Another favorite topic was Greek-Roman mythology. His daughter recalled that her father had a keen interest in mythological scenes on ancient vases and in baroque paintings. He also felt a kinship with the artist André Dubout, who modernized Greek myths in his work. In his own work, Kovarsky even mimicked the facial profiles and stylized imagery from ancient Greek art.

Illustration work
Kovarsky's first book illustration was done for 'My Yankee Paris' (1945) by his friend Herbert E. French, a first-hand description of his experiences as a U.S. G.I. in the French capital during the Liberation. Kovarsky provided funny portrayals of the American soldiers and local French people. He also livened up the pages of John Armstrong's limerick collection 'There Was A Young Lady Named Alice' (Dell Publishing, 1963) and Darrell Huff's 'Cycles In Your Life' (Norton, 1964). He additionally designed the cover of the novelty classical album 'More Classical Music For People Who Hate Classical Music' (1961), performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Kovarsky also drew slide projections for a 1964 Broadway play adaptation of Edward Lear's poem 'The Owl and the Pussy-Cat'. In the mid-1950s he designed patterns for a series of prints for silk scarves.

Painting
Kovarsky was also a prolific painter. His studio was divided in two rooms, one for making paintings, the other for drawing cartoons. It could explain explain why so many of his cartoons dealt with the art world, while his paintings featured joyful, cartoony topics like bullfighters, clowns, dancers and musicians. His work was exhibited at the Galerie Hervé (1956), Price Gallery (1962), Jack Gallery (1978) and the Zoma Gallery (1980) in Manhattan. He enjoyed enough success to say farewell to cartooning in 1969 and fully concentrate on painting for the rest of his life.

Final years and death
Anatol Kovarsky lived long enough to see the Soviet Union slowly but surely crumble. In 1979, he visited Moscow for the first time in over half a century, thanks to improvements in the relations between West and East. He visited the Russian capital again in 1989 and 1990. After a long and fruitful life, Anatol Kovarsky passed away in 2016 in Manhattan at the age of 97.

Between 4 January and 3 March 2018, the exhibition 'Kovarsky's World: Covers and Cartoons from The New Yorker' was on view at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

Series and books by Anatol Kovarsky in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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