Posts Tagged ‘John Coplans Life of Forms

14
Nov
21

Exhibition: ‘John Coplans: La Vie Des Formes’ at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2021 – 16th January 2021

Curators: Jean-François Chevrier and Élia Pijollet

 

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self Portrait (Two Hands Together)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait (Two Hands Together)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
101.5 x 110.8cm (39.89 x 43.54 ins)
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

A magnificent posting on the work of John Coplans whose art practice resulted in a photo essay, an extended, creative “body” of work (pardon the pun) which investigated the form, mass, volume and shape of the ageing human body – namely his own (as an auteur) – resulting in the most significant representation of the older human body in the history of photography.

Referencing the abstractions of Aaron Siskind’s Martha’s Vineyard rock formations and Bill Brandt’s nudes on the coast of East Sussex, Coplans abstracts the human body into singular and overlapping forms using shape, multiple self-portrait, multiple prints as frieze and mismatched dissections. As seen in the installation photographs in the video below, Coplans also pulls and pushes at the viewers perception of the scale of representation, the orientation of the body and the physicality of the photograph in the gallery space: a fragmented hand is larger and more imposing than a dissected foot; the body “lies” vertically upside down in Upside down No. 1 (1992, below); and the mass of the back overwhelms the viewer in Back with Arms Above (1984, below). Coplans depictions of large buttocks and back confront the viewer at eye level, much as Carravagio’s use of foreshortening in his paintings disturbed the status quo of the pictorial space in a church especially when seen by candlelight.

The artist frees the body from aesthetics – and the body becomes an/other structure, free of architecture.

This is not a degraded body but another body that just is… not the physicality of the body and certainly not my body as a temple, but an anti-commercial body, one that states that this is what we inevitably will become, despite our attempts to keep our beauty and attain immortality. This is about a recognition of the body as being undeniably present accepting an entire range of corpo/reality. While movement and action are suppressed (in stillness), change is the problem that Coplans has attempted to re/present – that is, “an attempt to capture a moment of transformation. In this case, it is both a physical change and a psychological set of responses…”1 Old age and mortality, age and youth, beauty.

I can also feel – sense, that Coplans work of the body is a tone poem, a piece of music (typically of one movement) on a descriptive theme. Tone is “often described as a “mood” that pervades the experience of reading the poem [as interpreted by the reader], it is created by the poem’s vocabulary, metrical regularity or irregularity, use of figurative language, and rhyme.”2 Here, Coplans figurative language (his life of forms) creates comparisons by linking the senses and the concrete to abstract ideas: the concreteness of the photograph to how we feel about an ageing body or, indeed, our own ageing body; the time freeze of the photograph to the feeling of lost youth; the immortality of the photograph to the knowledge that the artist is alive and dead – we have his preserved, embalmed, dissected body before us but what about his other, spirit?

We can know the phenomenal (the world of representation) but all we can ever do is intimate the noumenal world, the unknowable noumenon as an entity to which we can directly relate but can never know (we can know of death but never experience it).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Christopher P. Jones. “Great Paintings: Caravaggio’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’,” on the Thinksheet magazine website Aug 30, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2021
  2. Unknown author. “Tone,” in Glossary of Poetic Terms on the Poetry Foundation website Nd [Online] Cited 14/11/2021

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Many thankx to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In early October, the new exhibition on John Coplans will open at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, curated by Jean-François Chevrier and Élia Pijollet. It stands out through its selection and conversations with artists that Coplans admired, such as Brancusi, Weegee, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Philip Guston and Jan Groover.

A formal and fearless photographer, Coplans uses his naked body as the sole material for his sensual, disconcerting, radical and personal compositions. Comprised of original works on loan from numerous French institutions and private lenders, this exhibition breaks new ground for the Fondation HCB, with a rare bird from the history of photography.

 

 

 

Teaser de l’exposition John Coplans – La vie des formes

 

 

Exhibition

Fondation HCB is presenting a remarkable exhibition on the oeuvre of John Coplans (1920-2003), in collaboration with Le Point du Jour, Centre d’Art Éditeur in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Works on show here, on loan from French collections, testify to the audacity of this British artist, known for uncompromising representations of his body.

Coplans, who emigrated to the United States at the start of the 1960s, was at first painter, art critic, museum director and curator before devoting himself fully to photography in the early 1980s. At sixty years old, after twenty years of promoting the work of other artists, he retired to take up a life in art. He then developed a photography practice in which he represented himself nude, in black and white and often fragmented, his head always out of frame. To all these images, produced between 1984 and 2002, he attributed the generic title Self Portrait; descriptive titles and subtitles specify the body part depicted or the posture.

As a primary, unique and impersonal object, the body is a medium for jubilant, ever-renewed explorations of the life of form. Coplans’ work, often reductively seen as a representation of the ageing body, has lighter, more universal ambitions and inscribes in a long history of art forms through its metaphorical connections to nature or sculpture. His oeuvre redefines the meaning of age, no longer a progression towards the end of life, instead, an opportunity for a long-term record of humankind and an initiative for recollecting primitive forms.

The absence of the face, and the choice of the fragment as plastic element released a flood of inventions and formal analogies that seemed inexhaustible, only stopping with the artist’s passing. Coplans’ images are by turns subdued and explosive, funny, provocative and always carefully considered. They answer to a demand for clarity that transfigures expressionist pathos.

The exhibition La Vie des Formes (Life of Forms) is structured in three sets presented chronologically. First, small prints made at the start of Coplans’ career in photography (Torso, Back, Hands, Feet…); followed by, in 1988, large formats and montage combining several body fragments to create a single but disjointed image; and finally, as a great connoisseur of art history, Coplans integrated research on artists he studied, exhibited and knew into his own work, and a selection of works by these artists (Brancusi, Carleton Watkins, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Jan Groover, Weegee…) is presented.

 

Biography

John Coplans was born in London in 1920. The son of a doctor in medicine and art amateur, he spent most of his childhood between London and South Africa. In 1937, aware of the global danger posed by Nazi Germany, he joined the British army. He fought until 1945 in East Africa, then in India and Burma.

In 1946, John Coplans started an art degree but quickly gave up. He moved to London. For ten years or so, he has painted and contributed to the rise of abstract art, in the wake of lyrical abstraction, then Hard Edge. In 1960, Coplans emigrated to the United States and moved to San Francisco. In 1962, he participated in the creation of Artforum. The magazine quickly established itself as a monthly reference for art and creative news. The first of its kind on the West Coast, it supported and united artists, helping to bring out the “Los Angeles scene” and “West Coast art”. Coplans was its editor from 1971 to 1977 (in New York, where the magazine moved in 1967).

John Coplans was also a curator, director of the Art Gallery of the University of California at Irvine (1965-1967) and Senior Curator of the Pasadena Art Museum in (1967-1970). From 1978 to 1980, he directed the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. At this time, he began his first photographic experiments.

In 1980, he decided to cease these activities to become an artist again and to devote himself to photography. He moved to New York. From 1985 onwards, he exhibited regularly in France and Europe. In 1988, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) set up the first major exhibition of the photographer, which was then presented at the MoMA in New York the same year. John Coplans died in New York on August 21, 2003.

 

Publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book published by Le Point du Jour: John Coplans. Un corps, under the guidance of Jean-François Chevrier.

Press release from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait: Three Times' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait: Three Times
1987
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self Portrait: Six Times' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait: Six Times
1987
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

Emigrating to the United States in the early 1960s, John Coplans was first a painter, art critic, museum director and curator, before devoting himself fully to photography in the early 1980s. At the age of sixty, after having spent twenty years promoting the work of other artists, he retires to reconnect with the experience of creation. He then developed a photographic practice in which he represented his naked body, in black and white, often fragmented, his head always out of view. He used for all these images made between 1984 and 2002 the generic title Self Portrait; descriptive titles and sub-titles specify the body part or posture depicted.

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Knees with Fist' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Knees with Fist
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Foot, Four Panels' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Foot, Four Panels
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Double Feet, Five Panels' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Double Feet, Five Panels
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
Gelatin silver print

Used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hand, Two Panels, Vertical' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hand, Two Panels, Vertical
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Back of Hand, No. 1)' 1986

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Back of Hand, No. 1)
1986
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Front Hand, No. 3)' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Front Hand, No. 3)
1987
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Front Hand No. 6, Middle Fingers down)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Front Hand No. 6, Middle Fingers down)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Front Hand, Thumb Up, Middle' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Front Hand, Thumb Up, Middle
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Clenched thumb No. 2' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Clenched thumb No. 2
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Clenched Thumb Sideways)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Clenched Thumb Sideways)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Back with Arms Above' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Back with Arms Above
1984
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Body Parts, No. 8' 2001

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Body Parts, No. 8
2001
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Back Torso From Below' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Back Torso From Below
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Torso' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Torso
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hands Holding Feet' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hands Holding Feet
1985
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hands spread on knees' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hands spread on knees
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait: Hands Squeezing Knees' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait: Hands Squeezing Knees
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Reclining Back, Three Panels, Left' 1990

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Reclining Back, Three Panels, Left
1990
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Upside down No. 1' 1992

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Upside down No. 1
1992
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Untitled (Martha's Vineyard)' 1954

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Untitled (Martha’s Vineyard)
1954
Gelatin silver print
33.9 × 26.5cm (image); 35.2 × 28cm (paper)
Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Richard L. Menschel
© Aaron Siskind Foundation

Used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Torso Front' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Torso Front
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Lying Figure, Holding Leg, Four Panels' 1990

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Lying Figure, Holding Leg, Four Panels
1990
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Feet, Frontal' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Feet, Frontal
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives
75003 Paris

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Closed on Mondays

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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