Anton Sovetov, graphic designer, dies at 44
Anton Sovetov, a versatile graphic designer in the Office of the University Printer whose creative work gave clarity, style, and prominence to Yale’s public health messaging amid the COVID-19 pandemic, has died. He was 44.
Sovetov had been the subject of a missing person’s investigation instigated by Yale in early February.
Born and raised in Russia, Sovetov ’16 M.F.A. came to New Haven in the fall of 2014 to study at the Yale School of Art. A video game and science fiction enthusiast, or “gamer,” he produced a graphic design thesis called “Game is not over.”
Within months of graduation, he joined the university printer’s office as a Rollins Fellow. He distinguished himself for the breadth of his artistic skills — including drawing, calligraphy, typography and type design, and digital illustration — and was hired onto the regular staff after the fellowship.
During more than five years with the office, Sovetov shaped visual messaging for a wide variety of Yale offices, initiatives, celebrations, and programs, including the Fortunoff Archive of Holocaust Testimonies, the new residential colleges, the Yale Planetary Solutions Project, commencement, and the university’s response to COVID-19.
His projects included posters, banners, logos, icons, dinnerware, and complete visual identities.
Especially prominent was a series of large-format public health posters for campus bulletin boards that managed to strike a friendly tone as they urged people in booming capital letters to “WEAR A MASK” and “WASH YOUR HANDS.” He also designed a series of posters with athletics and performing arts themes — “Keep Covid Down / Boola Boola!” and “The show may have stopped, but the mask must go on.”
“Anton was at the heart of a shift in Yale’s graphic identity, from one almost solely based in type and photography to one based more in illustration,” said University Printer John Gambell, who hired Sovetov and supervised him throughout his Yale career. “He was one of the most talented designers I have worked with in my 40-year graphic design career, and an irreplaceable member of the university’s communications team.”
Casey Pickett, director of the Planetary Solutions Project (PSP) and Yale Carbon Charge, worked closely with Sovetov to develop PSP’s visual identity. Pickett praised his work as “spare, evocative, striking, and effective.”
“He helped me create a presentation that I have used well over 100 times presenting to audiences across Yale, the U.S., and the world,” Pickett said. “After nearly every presentation, someone asks me, ‘Who is your designer? Can you put me in touch?’ Anton’s work is unlike anything I have seen before.”
Sovetov discovered art as a child in St. Petersburg, his hometown. He taught himself drawing and calligraphy, and from an early age copied illustrations from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books for himself and friends, he told Gambell.
Also a serious flautist at an early age, Sovetov attended a music-focused primary school, followed by an English-language high school. He briefly studied law but found it didn’t suit him and dropped out of university. He learned computer-based illustration and, for about a decade, worked for a series of commercial printing and graphic design firms. He eventually returned to school, enrolling in the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, and briefly worked there before enrolling at Yale.
“My heart breaks for the loss of Anton,” said Yale Vice President for Communications Nate Nickerson, who oversees the Office of Public Affairs & Communications, of which the University Printer’s office is part. “He was a graphic designer of singular vision: his work for Yale was at turns playful, arresting, somber, and joyous — he had the rare talent of giving emotional power to nearly everything he touched. He was a beloved and sought-after member of our office and a great credit to the Yale School of Art. I will retain the joy of watching his face as I would lay out in broad terms the information and feeling I hoped he could convey with a given piece of work. In such moments, Anton was intensely alive: he had the eyes of an artist and the ear of a professional. Anton was a star, and I will miss him terribly.”
A bear of a man, always bearded, Sovetov was fastidiously tidy and orderly, and deeply invested in his work, colleagues said. He carefully queued the books on his desk, with a designated spot for borrowed books.
Highly receptive to art direction — “any intelligent comment would be taken very seriously,” said Gambell — Sovetov also valued procedural rigor and a commitment to fundamental design principles that were, he believed, most likely to lead to effective results.
“He was concerned that we live up to our own ideals,” said Gambell, who has been the university printer since 1998 and also teaches typography at the School of Art.
Sovetov relished the subtleties and playfulness of language, delighting in the existence in English of both “homebody” and “homeboy,” for instance. Among his closest colleagues, he let fly colorful comments, Gambell said, “many of them not quotable.”
Within a serious and intense personality, Sovetov nourished a sense of humor about himself. To Gambell he once declared, “John, I am a misanthrope.” (To which Gambell replied, “Well, if so, you’re the nicest one I’ve ever met.”)
As Stephen Naron, director of the Fortunoff archive, saw him, Sovetov was not only a great artistic talent but also “a decent, warm and upstanding human being” and “a true asset to Yale.”
Sovetov spoke often of Russia and of his mother, who lives in St. Petersburg and survives him.
“It was clear to all of us that he was very close to his mom,” Gambell said.
Still, Sovetov, who lived in New Haven, left little doubt that he wished to remain in the United States, and was in the process of seeking a Green Card.
And he left no doubt about the breadth of his appreciation for artistic expression or the multidimensional nature of his own expressive capacity: He took great pleasure in American and world folk music — and for a time, he practiced the “Riverdance” routines seriously enough to consider joining a dance troupe.
“Anton changed what Yale looks like,” said Gambell. “I’m grateful to have been his colleague.”
The Office of Public Affairs & Communications and Yale School of Art are currently working to arrange a memorial gathering.
Members of the Yale community who are feeling affected by this tragedy are encouraged to use the resources available to them. For Yale College and graduate students more information is available at the Yale Mental Health & Counseling site. Information for members of the Yale University staff and faculty can be found at Yale Health. The Yale Chaplain’s Office is available to all members of the community.