Art by Art 

The work of Art Covington.

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Art Covington began selling his artwork when he was five years old.

He copied cartoon characters. "I did Popeye and Mighty Mouse, and I would take them to my dad," he says. "I would leave them on his chair.

"I would come back to get it maybe later that evening. I got through playing. There would be a nickel or a quarter."

Covington, 61, who now shows his art locally at Center for Southern Folklore, Gallery 56, and Painted Planet, credits his dad for encouraging him to pursue art. "He saw that talent in me. As a matter of fact, later on, I guess around my junior high years, he and my sister enrolled me into this mail art course."

They discovered the Famous Artists School art course on a matchbook. It said "Draw Me." "And when you open it up [it'll have] a little bulldog or something there. I think mine was a boxer. I drew the boxer and they sent it in. They're supposed to let you know if you have talent or not."

It was costly, Covington says. "I think it's like $800. Back then, that was a lot of money. Norman Rockwell was one of the faculty members there."

He stuck with it for a year. "I was too young. I eventually started missing my classes."

Covington's parents said, "We're not going to be wasting our money on you. You're not committed enough right now."

"Draw Me" wasn't a total waste of money; Covington learned "the foundation of how to project images. I never had anyone showing me that. How to make the foreground darker and, as you get closer, make the images lighter. And how to do the lines. The perspective."

Noted Memphis artist George Hunt was Covington's next inspiration. Hunt was Covington's art teacher at Carver High School. "I would watch over his shoulder and see how he applied the paint to his artwork."

But, Covington says, "I did not know that he was such a phenomenal artist because he didn't put it out there. He didn't brag about his stuff."

Covington got away from painting after he got a full-time job. "I would paint just to get a few dollars here and there. When I got inspired to do something I would do it, but it was just every now and then."

Hunt invited him to paint at Carver. "He said, 'Why don't you come on back? I got a little extra room. You want to use it for your studio?'"

Covington, who had married, also was encouraged by his wife, Vanessa, who said he should participate in a fine arts competition sponsored by Church of God in Christ.

He won the "Visual Artist' category and went on to win a partial scholarship, which he used to attend Memphis College of Art.

Over the years Covington's subjects have ranged from landscapes to "country stuff" — barns and outhouses — to Rockwell-ish "expressions of life." He now paints a lot of music-themed works.

Covington discovered Center for Southern Folklore about 15 years ago when he was trying to find someplace to hang his artwork. "I noticed they had some artwork on the wall and met Judy [Peiser, Center for Southern Folklore founder and executive producer]. I've been with them ever since."

Covington began selling his paintings at the Center's Memphis Music & Heritage Festival. "Most of the people buying my artwork are people from out of town."

"Art Covington uses his art to tell us about the people and places he knows," Peiser says. "From someone talking on the phone to the Pyramid at Memphis, Art's work allows us to know more about this place we call home."

One of Covington's popular works is "Kings of Beale" — his Memphis take on the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover. Instead of the Beatles, he painted W. C. Handy, Elvis, Isaac Hayes, and B. B. King.

And instead of Abbey Road, the men are crossing Beale Street. "It's such a beautiful place," Covington says. "Especially at nighttime when it's all lit up. I wish I had time to put it all in there, but I just wanted enough so people would know, 'Hey. This is Beale Street.'"

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