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For posterity’s sake: CK artist CoConis joins the big leagues

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By Mark Scohier

Ted CoConis likes to keep things quiet, diligently working away in his island studio. Getting “away from the buzz of the fast lane” is one of the reasons he and his wife, Kristen, made Cedar Key their winter home 25 years ago. 

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“We live a very secluded life,” CoConis, 85, said Friday, crediting his wife for making it possible for him to live in a bubble. “No one really knows that I’m an artist.”

Kristen, in an email last week, wrote that “most people know him only as the guy who jogs around town every morning. When Ted told you we’re private people who prefer our solitude, he wasn’t exaggerating.”

Still, it’s not exactly true, the part about him not being known as an artist.

This year, CoConis, who has been creating art for more than 65 years, joins the ranks of such famed artists as Norman Rockwell, N.C Wyeth and John James Audobon — to name only a few — with his induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

The Society, based in New York City, has been honoring illustrators since 1958, recognizing artists for their body of work and impact on the field on illustration.

“It’s a great honor,” CoConis said Friday on the phone, taking a break from packing for a trek to Maine, where he and his wife spend their summers. 

After about 30 years of not doing commercial illustration, “then to be inducted into the Hall of Fame ... it’s like wow. It’s posterity.”

CoConis, who had a successful freelance career creating images for magazine covers, movie posters, books and record albums for more than three decades, quit the field of illustration in the 1980s to concentrate on fine art.

“It’s all the same,” CoConis said, comparing the work he did as an illustrator to the work he does now. Except, now, he added, his creations are no longer subject to the whim of others.

“Aesthetically, I’ve had some bad experiences,” CoConis said, explaining that while some art directors in the commercial world “take care of your paintings,” others are clueless, awkwardly cropping an image or placing type in the wrong place.

CoConis said working as a fine artists also affords him more time to develop his ideas and re-visit themes.

“You’re able to move in a direction or work toward what you think needs constant improvement,” he said.

His latest works, a series of oil paintings of translucent Parisian women standing in crowded street corners or posing in lavishly decorated rooms, are sort of a nod to his days as an illustrator, he said.

CoConis was well known for his ability to render the feminine form, and he often did work for “McCall’s,” the “Ladies Home Journal” and “Good Housekeeping.” But in his latest work, there’s no one saying the women’s cheeks need to be rosier.

“There’s no one calling the shots.”