Long term exposure
Airbrushing out beauty flaws isn't an
option for JOHN COPLANS, who charts the ageing process by photographing his naked body. care: Moira Jeffrey
This year John (‘oplans will be 7‘) years old. A time. one might imagine. for slowing down and taking it easy. lior (‘oplans however. life in a Miami retirement home is out of the question. Instead the artist is exhibiting giant photographs of his naked body and flying across the Atlantic to Iidinburgh.
He took tip photography at the time of retirement and is reported to ha\c done so ‘to avoid becoming a permanent television viewer‘. It is a neat biographical image: the older man railing against mortality by exposing his ageing and vulnerable body to the public git/c. But that is only part of the story (’oplans is a pivotal figure in American art and criticism. and his photography the culmination of a lifetime's exploration.
(’oplans spent his child— hood between London and South Africa. .-\fter wartime service. he felt drawn to the art world — ‘the lure of nude models. parties and cafe life‘. He became a painter in Iingland. but in l‘)(i() he travelled to America where he curated exhibitions. taught and wrote about art. In two: ('oplans co-founded :trr/orum. the definitive .»\merican art magazine and ran the gauntlet of art world intrigue and impassioned artists. one ol \\ hom tried to strangle him at a private view. In l‘)7‘) he started to take photographs and. in I934. hc began the nude self-portraits.
'I sometimes try to honour my female ancestors by attempting to look feminine.’ John Coplans
Self Portrait (Hands Holding Feet),1985 by John Coplans
In the images. Coplans is naked. The full texture and detail of his elderly body is revealed: the freckles and body hair. the chipped toe-nails. They are far from any conventional understanding of a self- portrait. We never see the artist‘s head or face. The images are dramatically cropped. Sometimes he has produced series of work concentrating on a single part of the body. such as hands or feet. Even then. his body often pretends to be something else — the wrinkled skin on his hand forms a smile. his back imitates a landscape or his torso looks like a giant face.
The prints are often blown up to an enormous scale. ‘When you take the hand and make it 6ft tall.‘ he has said. ‘it‘s like a giant sculpture. It’s no longer a little human hand.‘ In some of the works Coplans mimics the female body. ‘I sometimes try to honour my female ancestors by attempting to look feminine.‘ he states.
It is the reference to his ancestors which gives the biggest indication of what (‘oplans is trying to achieve. He went to America after seeing an exhibition of the Abstract Expressionists then. in
subsequent years. immersed himself in the work of
painters like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. His work develops what he saw as a distinctly American form of art and an interest in the primordial. universal nature of being human.
(‘oplans has already written of the final. inevitable stage of the ageing process. He wishes to be cremated. his body sealed into little packages and the ashes transported to venues like Westminster Abbey and the Taj Mahal — ‘little bits of me deposited in all kinds of interesting places around the world‘. (‘oplans obviously intends to continue in death. as he is in life.
John Coplans: A Self Portrait 1984—1999 is at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh from Sat 29 May—Sun 25 Jul.
Who ’5 making an exhibition of themselves?
SCOTTISH ARTIST ALLAN JOHNSTON is the subject of a beautiful and much anticipated publication from Edinburgh's Inverleith House. The catalogue documents his 1995 show, which celebrated the gallery’s unique space and enlightenment history. Johnston's work can currently be seen as part of Locale at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre (see listings for details). The publication costs £12; for details call 0131 248 2943.
THE BULKHEAD PRIZE shortlist mentioned last issue has been announced. The three artists whose works will be realised in Glasgow this summer are Chris Wallace, Roddy Mathieson and Lisa Gallagher. Wallace’s wind-driven objects will make use of those strange draughts familiar to users of the underground and Mathieson will transform the pedestrian and cycle route beneath the M8 motorway at Woodside. Gallagher, the driving forcebehind the exhibition Muse seen in Glasgow in February of this year, makes use of her training in textiles. She intends to literally embroider a Glaswegian building and then attach a giant sewing needle to it.
THE CCA, ENSCONCED in its new headquarters in the McLellan Galleries, now has Georgia on its mind with the announcement of residencies for three artists from Tbilisi this summer. It is envisaged that a return leg will take place in 2000, with Glasgow-based artists having the chance to participate in a joint exhibition in Georgia. GLASGOW-BASED PUBLICATION STOPSTOP has just issued its second volume of new artwork. Entitled Bent Aura, the compilation includes contributions from Kate Gray, Toby Webster and the duo Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan. Also included is the work of Martin Boyce who is currently showing at Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery. Available by retail or mail order from 1/L 83 Hill Street, Glasgow, G3 8N2 at the price of £4. Call 0141 564 8018 for more information.
INVERNESS MUSEUM AND Art Gallery and art.tm are calling for artwork in any media for a national touring exhibition — and the subject matter is sheep! Artists should contact Denise Findlay of the exhibitions unit on 01463 237114. (Moira Jeffrey)
Allan Johnston at Inverleith House in 1995
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