August 4, 2010

Richie Rich artist collaborates on book with daughter

Richie Rich cartoonist introduces audience to art masters

Features Editor

ESSEX — Salvadore Dali played right into Sid Couchey's hands.

"His moustache, how he loved watches," said the Essex artist.

Dali's style is one Sid imitates in a children's book he is collaborating with daughter Laura Abate.

It's an art history book in simple language for ages 4 through 10 or so inspired by Sid's "Champy by the Masters" series — she has written the text, and Sid contributes the illustration, showing how he brought the style of various master artists to bear on whimsical interpretations of the Lake Champlain sea monster.

On the cover, a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" sits side-by-side with a demurely smiling Champy by Sid.

"Sometimes I pretend I am Vincent van Gogh. I look inside myself and paint the night sky with the colors that I feel. I use big strokes and swirl on the paint," is the text on one page, with a drawing of Sid at his easel doing just that.

As for Dali, Sid painted himself holding up a melted clock. "I let my imagination run wild!" says the text. "I use symbols, like clocks for time."

"This is Laura's idea," Sid said from his Essex home. "She is kind of prejudiced — she likes the old man's work."

Growing up there, Laura watched her dad illustrating "Richie Rich" and other comic books and set his pencil and brush to work on many other pieces.

He'd be at his drawing board for hours and hours, she remembered.

"I was always mesmerized by that," she said.

Home, she added, "was such a rich environment for creativity."

Pieces on display

Laura, a stay-at-home mom who in the past was a teacher trainer specializing in English as a second language, felt inspired by her dad to write "A Cartoonist's Introduction to the Masters."

The self-published book will include ideas for parents and teachers for projects they can do with kids on the different genres of painting.

Sid's Champy series shows the sea monster in various styles, including that of Toulouse Lautrec. That Parisian scene puts the Lake Champlain legend on "Champ's Elysées."

Three of those framed originals are on display through Aug. 17 at the Adirondack Art Association Gallery in Essex, where Sid is featured artist among 30 or so others in the Members Show. Those pieces aren't for sale, though prints are available. Seven or eight others displayed at the recent opening sold, he was pleased to report.

One of those featured Sid, himself, with old friend Richie Rich in the cockpit of a plane in the midst of a paintball battle with an unseen enemy.

He's getting the worst of it, judging by the paint splattered on the aircraft.

"I haven't looked lately, so I'm not sure if I'm still surviving," he said.

No, his paintings don't come to life Harry Potter-style, but Sid's imagination takes them beyond the stretch of the typical.

One work that wasn't available for purchase but has since been priced at $5,000 was inspired by a visit Sid and his wife, Ruth, made to Scotland.

"I was so impressed with the architecture and the castles," he said. "So I did the castle of all castles."

In the moat of the many-pinacled castle are Champy and the Loch Ness Monster facing off.

"There hasn't been a confrontation yet, but they're both poised," Sid said.

Forgotten treasures

Inspiration strikes most, says Couchey legend, before the dawn after a late-night snack of cold spaghetti.

Pushed to find words to describe the workings of his artist's brain, however, Sid said, "I just anticipate if this or that happened, what would be the consequences."

Selecting pieces for the show, both for the opening and to replace sold works, Sid rummaged through his home studio and turned up some almost forgotten treasures.

"I get a big kick out of that," he said.

There's a line drawing Sid did to promote an ambulance fundraiser some 40 years ago. It appeared on the cover of the local paper, showing the various booths and displays promised at the event.

"There's another one I'm excited about," Sid said, "a thing called 'Tangling Heroes.'"

Dated 1954, the work shows Dick Tracy firing a cork pistol at Superman and other characters brawling, among them Tarzan and Joe Palooka. A newcomer is Richie Rich with "2010" noted beside him.

"I want to get that framed," Sid said.

Humor has been a key ingredient in the mix all his life — he can't help but surprise friends with cartoons that feature them in funny situations. He can't help but utter deadpan observations: "When you're a fine artist, you hate to demean yourself," he said. "But I have no choice because I'm thought of in a silly way."

Chicken or egg? Sid knows which.

"I couldn't do it any other way — I find it hard to be serious about myself."

At 91, Sid's agile mind keeps ticking away, his hand remains sure as ever, though fatigue has become a factor. Considering the volume of work he accomplished "back when," he said, "I can't imagine how I spent the time and the energy to do it.

"I'm just thankful to the Lord I've got whatever it takes to draw cartoons or realistically.

"I'm more thankful than proud."

His gratitude includes luck in love, too. He and Ruth will soon celebrate 51 years of marriage, and she's his partner through and through.

"She draws quite well," Sid said.

He relies on her compositions skills.

"Of course, some of (his works) are just silly; others require some perspective, some lights and darks and balance."

One of the "Masters" series shows Champy in a fishing shanty.

"She thought that one was much too light and yellow.

Over the winter in South Carolina, Sid worked on a few commissions and eight or so other projects simultaneously.

"Of course, this one with my daughter, I think I'll enjoy as much as I ever did anything."

Laura is onboard with that.

When Sid Couchey's your dad, she said, "it just inspires people to be artists."

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