Detail from 'Mother Figure' (1966).
Detail from 'Mother Figure' (1966).
William N. Copley: Women at Paul Kasmin Gallery (Jan 26 – March 25, 2017)
January 2, 2017

The William N. Copley Estate is excited to begin 2017 with a new show of paintings by the artist, organized in collaboration with Paul Kasmin Gallery, titled William N Copley: Women. The show surveys this most overt Copley theme with a selection of exemplary paintings from all periods of the artist’s career. A new catalogue featuring an essay by the artist’s daughter Claire Copley will be available at the opening reception and throughout the run of the exhibition.

From the press release:

Paul Kasmin Gallery is pleased to announce William N Copley: Women on view at 515 West 27th Street from January 26 – March 25, 2017. The exhibition, including over twenty paintings, will be the William N. Copley Estate’s fifth exhibition with the gallery following X-Rated (2010), The Patriotism of CPLY and All That (2012), Confiserie CPLY (2013), and William N. Copley: Drawings (1962 – 1973) (2015).

William N Copley: Women unites a selection of paintings that highlight the late artist’s preoccupation with the opposite sex, which he employed as an endless source for inventive figurative and narrative paintings that explored eroticism, sexual politics and the pursuit of pleasure. Originally defying painterly trends of the 1950s by making personal and narrative works, the self-taught artist developed a radical fusion of European Surrealist vernacular and a rogue, humorous American sensibility. Sex, eroticism and cultural critique were mainstays in Copley’s oeuvre of paintings that embraced idiosyncratic figuration, candy-colored palettes and Matisse-like decorative patterning.

A single recurring subject – women – becomes the torch that illuminates Copley’s modus operandi as an artist and his stylistic permutations as a painter. An orphan adopted by a wealthy conservative family, Copley would be educated at single-sex schools Andover and Yale in the 1930s, and, after serving abroad in WWII, would discover in Surrealism a liberating platform that celebrated sexual candor and cultural resistance. Though his work matured rapidly through the 1950s, this initial inebriation with the freedom promised by Surrealism never left him and is evident throughout the exhibition.

William N Copley: Women includes paintings from all stages of the artist’s career, beginning with works made after his expatriation from Los Angeles to Paris in 1951, where he worked at the Impasse Ronsin and Longpont-Sur-Orge until moving to New York in 1962 – his home for the next two decades. The artist’s singular work of the 1960s, filled with references to the historical tradition of the Nude and suffused with an erotic, Duchampian humor, will be joined with related examples from the “X-Rated” series of 1972-1975, which sought to “break through the barrier of pornography into the area of joy,” as Copley put it.

Copley’s “area of joy” would radiate through later paintings that incorporated assemblage of fetish elements such as lingerie, garter-belt buckles, high-heeled shoes and underwear. These paintings signaled Copley’s recognition of painting as both fetish object and potential vessel for humorous, erotic talismans. Other key works in the exhibition draw from Copley’s perennial exploration of the “battle of the sexes”, a favorite theme, and of the “Unknown Whore”, a concept the artist used to venerate the ambassadors of sex instead of war. Viewed together, William N Copley: Women serves as a capsule survey of the artist’s trailblazing art and an expansive introduction to his erotic poetics and liberal visual language.

William N. Copley, (1919 – 1996), known by his signature name CPLY, (pronounced ‘see-ply’), was a painter, writer, gallerist, art patron, publisher, and art entrepreneur. His work is held in private and public collections worldwide, such as the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Stedelijk Museum and many more. Recently the subject of a comprehensive traveling retrospective organized by The Menil Collection and Fondazione Prada, (on view until February 12, 2017), Copley is now seen as a singular personage of post-war painting and important linkage between European Surrealism and American Pop Art.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring selected archival material, and a personal essay on her father by Claire Copley, the artist’s eldest daughter.