The Dead Supreme: Grave rubbings come alive

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By TOM HOLMES

Remember the grave rubbings you did when you were in Girl Scouts? How your troop leader took you out to the old cemetery, and there you pressed your paper against the face of a cool-looking stone marker, rubbed your pencil over the surface and, as if by magic, an image appeared on the page?

That activity might have caught your interest when you were 12, but would an exhibit of grave rubbingsâ€"or frottage as the technique is known in art circlesâ€"get you down to the plan B Gallery on a Saturday night?

Well, that's what I did last Saturday, and I discovered that the sign in the store next door to plan B, Livin' Large, almost described the art of Scott Covert better than his title for the exhibit: The Dead Supreme. On large canvases, Covert uses oil crayons in vivid colors to make his rubbings and includes interesting combinations of names on many of them.

For example, on one large canvas, the central imageâ€"in bright reds and pinksâ€"is the huge heart-shaped headstone from 1950s sex symbol Jane Mansfield's grave, along with the epitaph "WE LIVE TO LOVE YOU MORE."

What makes the composition interesting is that in the background, Covert has included rubbings from the markers of people like Rudolfo Valentino, Tammy Wynette, Jack Benny, Betty Grable and Thelonius Monk.

Some combinations of rubbings are easy to figure out. JOSEPH PAUL DiMAGGIO and MARILYN MONROE are reunited on one piece. DEAN MARTIN, SAMMY DAVIS JR. and the rest of the Rat Pack are together on another. And MALCOLM X, BETTY SHABAZZ and EMMET L. TILL are juxtaposed on still another.

Some combinations, however, tease the mind. What, for example, do GRACIE ALLEN and GEORGE BURNS have to do with SONNY LISTON and WALTER ELIAS DISNEY? Likewise, on another canvas Covert has rubbed together SOJOURNER TRUTH and MAJ. GENL. J.E.B. STUART CONFEDERATE STATES on one canvas.

"There's a story behind every piece," said Jay Boeldt, the director of the gallery and an artist in his own right. Boeldt, who describes his own work as pop art in the tradition of Andy Warhol, was attracted to Covert's work not only because of his use of color and sense of composition but also because of the stories Covert tells regarding every work he has created.

The exhibit includes a piece in shades of red with the name LAWRENCE WELK, followed by a few bars of music. GEORGE HERMAN RUTH, 1895-1948, is there along with THE BEST IS YET TO COME, FRANCIS ALBERT SINATRA on a sparkly blue canvas. So is ANDY WARHOL, flanked by a Russian Orthodox cross.

Part of the story of plan B Gallery, which has been open since June, is Jay Boeldt's decision to move to Forest Park from the Art District on Harrison Street in Oak Park. Boeldt listed three reasons for making the move. First was that Forest Park had one main street on which many businesses were concentrated and where there was a lot of synergy. Second he discovered the new restaurants and shops on the street and sensed that something was happening. And third, the rent was affordable.

If you want to "rub elbows" with Marilyn Monroe, Billy Holiday, Truman Capote, Fred Astaire, Phil Silvers, Mies Van der Rohe and Francis Albert Sinatra, check out plan B Gallery at 7453 Madison between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The Dead Supreme exhibit will be showing until March 18.

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