Jim Covarrubias always had a passion for creating art. After honing his skills at Arizona State University, where he earned both a Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degree, Jim traveled across Europe, visiting world-class museums and drawing inspiration from classical masters, street and graffiti artists, plein air painters, and others.
Since then, Jim has published three books on his paintings, performed at the Herberger Theater and Tempe Center for the Arts, and showcased his artworks at West Valley Art Museum, Addison-Taylor Gallery, Albinitas Gallery, ALAC, and the Latino Culture Center. He has founded organizations such as the Movimiento Artistico del Rio Salado (MARS) and Ariztlan, Inc., which have helped fill the void in artistic opportunities for Latino and Indigenous artists and have since grown to support other artists who are seeking exhibition spaces and representation.
We spoke with Jim Covarrubias to learn more about his inspirations, the experiences that define who he is as an artist, and much more.
“Love what you create, and be willing to share and describe what you create. Your art is a language unique to your life. Study the techniques vital to telling this story in a way that satisfies you.”
Image courtesy of the artist, Photo: Phil Soto
PhxArt: Tell us about who you are and where you’re from. What was your first connection to art?
Jim Covarrubias: I am an Arizona native who grew up in Kingman. I always liked making art and I created my first mural in the 5th grade at Kingman Grammar School. In high school, I was lucky to have Mr. McCleve, a gifted artist who taught us many techniques that I later honed at Arizona State University, where I obtained Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees.
After college, I traveled across Europe and visited museums everywhere, from Spain to Sweden. Modern art fascinated me, as did the classical masters; van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Chagall, Vermeer, and many other greats were an inspiration. But also street artists, graffiti artists, plein air painters, portrait sketchers, and all forms of creativity compelled me to create.
Jim Covarrubias, Cheyenne, 1989. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Tom Marrs
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in, and why?
JC: My favorite medium to work in is painting with acrylics. My paintings are allegorical and grounded in abstract realism, with tangible elements set into an abstract atmosphere. I have the ability to paint quickly, so I often paint live and have done so with orchestras and rock-and-roll bands, at fiestas and gallery openings, and at benefits for worthy causes. I have been dubbed the “Fastest Drawer in the West” and have live-painted in Japan, Europe, Mexico, and the United States. I created an entire museum exhibition in real time at the West Valley Art Museum, live-painting works one at a time until the gallery was filled.
PhxArt: Tell us about the arts organizations you founded.
JC: When I returned to Phoenix from my travels across Europe, I helped create a Latino-Native-American arts organization and gallery called Movimiento Artistico del Rio Salado (MARS) and later founded Ariztlan, Inc., a non-profit organization with the mission to document, create, and share the stories and works of Arizona artists and promote regional art events. The organization included an arts magazine edited by the late Ruben Hernandez and a television series on artists of the Valley called Ariztlan Presents with the late Kim Buick as director and producer. Both of these organizations led to the creation of ALAC, of which I was the first Vice President. MARS and Ariztlan, Inc. were initially created to fill the void in artistic opportunities for Latino and Native-American artists and have since grown to support other artists who are seeking exhibition spaces and representation.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
JC: I have many artistic influences who have inspired me. For visual artists, I would say Picasso, van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, my uncle Miguel Covarrubias, Fritz Scholder, and Philip C. Curtis. For musicians, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and Richie Valens. For writers, John Steinbeck, Boris Pasternak, James Baldwin, and Ernest Hemingway. For filmmakers, John Huston, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Akira Kurasawa.
Jim Covarrubias, La Frontera – Separation, Separation series, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Tom Marrs
PhxArt: What’s something you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
JC: I’ve recently published a new book on my paintings, in collaboration with Michel Sarda of Bridgewood Press, titled Spirit of My Land. This is the third book on my art produced by Bridgewood Press. My previous books are titled Vision of My Land and Kokopelli: The Art and Poetry of Jim Covarrubias. The latter presents paintings and poetry used in the production of a modern Native-American Opera penned by Michel Sarda and me. We performed Kokopelli Opera at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix and Tempe Center for the Arts. The performances are available to view on YouTube.
With Ariztlan, Inc., I have produced 40 edited videos on artists, plays, and concerts. Profiled artists include John Waddell, Fritz Scholder, Paolo Soleri, Manuel Neri, Joseph Sanchez, Aaron Yava, Martin Moreno, Rotraut Klein-Moquay, Yves Amu Klein, and Helme Prinzen. My documented performances include Kokopelli the Legend, Kokopelli Opera, Warrior’s Celebrating Freedom, One More Soldier Coming Home, and Vivaldi at Arcosanti.
PhxArt: What is some advice you’d give to aspiring artists just beginning to build their professional practice?
JC: Love what you create, and be willing to share and describe what you create. Your art is a language unique to your life. Study the techniques vital to telling this story in a way that satisfies you.
Jim Covarrubias, La Frontera, Separation series, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Tom Marrs
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
JC: The community can expect more partnerships from Ariztlan, Inc. and me that create opportunities for artists to be visual storytellers here in Arizona. Currently, Ariztlan is working in partnership with Espiritu Loci on behalf of Arizona Public Service to curate and produce murals that will tell the history and stories of the Grant Park Neighborhood located south of downtown Phoenix. I am most honored to be the curator for this mural project in a historic and iconic neighborhood that I am so familiar with. My studio was located in Grant Park for more than nine years. We will commission the talents of Valley muralists to relate the joys, successes, drama, and pains of the community members who have lived and worked in Grant Park. Part of my curation process has been to document community stories through video interviews. The endeavor is call La Flor del Pueblo, and everyone can follow the evolution of our storytelling at laflordelpueblo.org.
Jim Covarrubias, Song of Kokopelli, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Tom Marrs
To see more artwork by Jim Covarrubias, visit www.covarrubiascollection.com. Galleries currently showcasing his work include the Addison-Taylor Gallery, Albinitas Gallery, and ALAC.
PhxArt: We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Jim Covarrubias shares what’s giving him life during the pandemic.
JC: Prior to COVID, my time was committed to working in my studio, mostly by myself, so this hasn’t changed much. I did contract the virus in December 2019 and spent two weeks in the Phoenix Veterans’ Hospital. When I returned home, I was so weak that I couldn’t even paint or write. My energy had disappeared, and I spent months rebuilding my strength. When I could paint again, I began a series about the incarcerated children on the U.S.-Mexico border. My empathy was heartfelt; how sad and empty they must feel without the freedom to have fun, to live with joy, and to create. I called the series Separation, hoping people would gain a deeper sense of empathy for the atrocities happening at the border. Painting Separation gave me a new appreciation for making art. I missed going to exhibition openings, museum shows, and studios, but I realized my true job as an artist is to create. I look forward to returning to normal activities and will do so with a kinder appreciation and an even more profound respect for my fellow artists.
Jim Covarrubias, Angelita de los Artistas, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Tom Marrs