Portrait of John Coplans, oil on board, signed and dated 58 upper right, framed 75.5 x 60cm (29 3/4 x 23 5/8in).
Provenance: Private UK Collection; gifted to John Coplans, thence by descent.
John Coplans (1920-2003)
Photographer, painter, writer and curator, John Coplans was born in London in 1920, but grew up between London and Capetown. After serving in the King's African Rifles in Kenya and Burma, ending the war in India, he studied painting in London alongside Francis Newton Souza, holding his first exhibition of Tachiste-influenced abstract paintings at the New Visions Centre Gallery in London in 1957. The following year, 1958, in which he sat for this portrait by Souza, Coplans participated in a travelling exhibition of 13 artists from Commomwealth countries that was shown in London and the US. This exhibition included works by Souza and S H Raza.
Captivated by the Tate's New American Painting exhibition in 1958 and the Hard-Edged Painting exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Coplans moved to San Francisco in 1960, where he taught design at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1962 he became one of the founding editors of the magazine Artforum. An early champion of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, in 1963 he organised the exhibition Pop Art USA at the Oakland Art Museum, moving on to become Director of the Art Gallery, University of California, Irvine, between 1967-71, and Senior Curator at the Pasadena Art Museum between 1967-71. In Pasadena, he gave Robert Irwin, Richard Serra and James Turrell their first shows, alongside established artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Donald Judd.
In 1971, Coplans moved to New York as the Editor of Artforum. In 1980 he stepped down from this role and became Director of the Akron Art Museum, Ohio, during which period he published books on photographers from Weegee to Brancusi, and started his own photographic experiments. However, it was not until 1981 when he moved back to New York, that Coplans began the final phase of his career for which he would become best known: self-portraiture. A pioneer in this field, Coplans took large format black and white close-ups of his naked body, always leaving out his head, documenting the decline of the human form with age. In 2001, for his exhibition Self-Portraits, Coplans wrote: "The principal thing is the question of how our culture views age: that old is ugly....Just think of Rodin how he dealt with people of all ages. I have the feeling that I am alive, I have a body....I can make it extremely interesting. That keeps me alive and vital." He went on to say that this reinforced his disdain for the classical Greek tradition of art. Coplans died in New York in 2003.