William Copley (artist)

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William N. Copley (January 24, 1919 – May 7, 1996) also known as CPLY, was an American painter, writer, gallerist, collector, patron, publisher and art entrepreneur.[1] His works as an artist have been classified as late Surrealist and precursory to Pop Art.[2]

Early life and introduction to art[edit]

Copley was born in New York City in 1919 and was adopted in 1921 by Ira C. Copley, the owner of sixteen newspaper companies in Chicago and San Diego.[3] Ira C. Copley remarried after the death of his wife, Edith, several years after the adoption took place. The three lived in Aurora, Illinois, until Copley was ten years old whereby the family moved to Coronado Island, California.[4]

Copley was sent to Phillips Andover and then Yale University by his adopted parents. He was drafted in the Second World War in the middle of his education at Yale, a decision negotiated by the school and the army.[5] Copley experimented with politics upon returning home from the war, working as a reporter for his father's newspaper.[6]

By 1946, Copley met and married Marjorie Doris Wead, the daughter of a test pilot for the Navy.[7] Doris's sister was married to John Ployardt, a Canadian-born animator and narrator at Walt Disney Studios.[8] Copley and Ployardt soon became friends and Ployardt began introducing Copley to painting and Surrealism.[9] The two traveled to Mexico and New York, discovering art, meeting the artists behind the works, and grasping Surrealist ideas. It was during this time that Copley and Ployardt decided to open a gallery in Los Angeles to exhibit Surrealist works.[10]

Copley Galleries[edit]

Copley and Ployardt tracked down Man Ray while living in Los Angeles. Ray then introduced them to Marcel Duchamp in New York City. There, Duchamp opened many doors for them, introducing the two to New York dealers in Surrealism.[11] In 1948, Copley and Ployardt opened The Copley Galleries in Beverley Hills, displaying works by artists including René Magritte, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, Joseph Cornell, and Man Ray. However, Los Angeles had not yet caught on to the Surrealist scene as other locations such as New York City had done, and the Copley Galleries faced hardships in gaining popularity and sales. Copley painted part-time during the gallery's running from the encouragement of friends Duchamp and Ernst and worked on painting full-time when the gallery closed after its first year.[12]

Artwork and exhibitions[edit]

Copley's work from his start as an artist in the early 50s and into his career experienced an evolution in ideas. Copley's paintings throughout the 1950s and 60s dealt with ironic and humorous images of stereotypical American symbols like the Western saloon, cowboys, and pin-up girls combined with flags.[13] His works during this period were often considered a combination of American and Mexican folk art and melded in well with the new young POP movement occurring in America when he returned to New York in the 1960s. Artists like Andy Warhol, Christo, Roy Lichtenstein and many others were frequent visitors at Copley’s studio on Lower Broadway.[14] Copley believed that pop art had always interested him, claiming American pop art had much to do with "self-disgust" and "satire."[15]

Copley's works in the 1970s focused on his own understating of differences and challenges between men and women in romantic and sexual relationships. His works were now erotic, even pornographic. In 1974 he exhibited these new works at what was then the New York Cultural Center in Columbus Circle, New York in a show titled “CPLY X-Rated.” These pieces were a sudden change from his previous romantic whimsical periods. The American public had difficulty with the material, for which Copley expressed, "Americans... don't know the difference between eroticism and pornography. Because eroticism has always existed in art. And pornography has never necessarily been in art."[16] Copley's experienced greater feedback in Europe, where the work was then well received. In conjunction with the New York Cultural Center Show there was a special "CPLY X-Rated Poster and Catalog.

Copley's first exhibition took place in Los Angeles in 1951 at Royer's Book Shop.[17] From there Copley participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. In 1961, Copley was given an exhibition in Amsterdam by the Stedelijk Museum. The museum became the first public institution to add a Copley to their collection.[18]

Projects[edit]

William and Noma Copley Foundation[edit]

Copley moved to Paris in 1949-50, leaving behind his wife and two children to continue to paint.[19] During his time in Paris, he remained in Surrealist circles and continued to paint with a uniquely American style. Copley and his wife at the time, Noma Rathner, developed the William and Noma Copley Foundation, later known as the Cassandra Collection, in 1953 with the funds from his father's inheritance.[20] The board, in which Marcel Duchamp was also an adviser, gave small grants to artists and musicians. Upon Duchamp’s death in 1968, The William and Noma Copley Foundation (later the Cassandra Foundation) gave Marcel Duchamp’s last work, “L’Etant Donnes” to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is still on view.[21]

The Letter Edged in Black Press (SMS)[edit]

In 1967, after a divorce with his second wife, Noma, Copley and new friend Dmitri Petrov decided to publish portfolios of 20th-century artist collaborations with the abbreviation SMS (for "Shit Must Stop").[22] Copley's Upper West Side loft became a meeting place for performers, artists, curators, and composers to work together on the open-ended collective.[23] The SMS portfolio contained six volumes, each of which were shipped out from the artists to subscribers. The works included came from artists both well-renowned and obscure, including Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Christo, Richard Hamilton, Claes Oldenburg, John Cage, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Dick Higgins, Ronnie Landfield, Bruce Nauman, Meret Oppenheim, Neil Jenney, Yoko Ono and others.[24]

Collecting artworks[edit]

From the time of the Copley Galleries until his death, Copley amassed a large collection of artworks with an emphasis on Surrealist works. The basis of his collection started when he began purchasing works that did not sell at the Copley Galleries.[25] From there, he amassed monumental works including Man Ray's "A l'Heure de l'Observatoire - Les Amoureux." Copley's collection was sold at auction in 1979 for $6.7 million, at the time the highest total for the auction of a single owner's collection in the United States.[26]

Later Years[edit]

Copley moved to Roxbury, Connecticut in 1980, where he built a studio and spent time among friends.[27] In 1992 he moved full-time to Key West, Florida, due to health issues and lived with his sixth and final wife, Cynthia Gooch. He died on May 7, 1996, at age 77 from complications from a stroke he had suffered three weeks earlier.[28]

Mr. Copley's first five marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his son, who is also a painter, he is survived by his wife, Cynthia Gooch; two daughters, Claire of Manhattan and Theodora of Ohio, and four grandchildren.[29]

Selected Solo Exhibitions[edit]

  • 2012 Museum Frieder Burda, Baden Baden
  • 2011 "X-Rated," Sadie Coles HQ, London
  • 2010 "CPLY: X-Rated," Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
  • 2004 Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain
  • 1980-81 Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany
    • Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (traveling retrospective)
    • Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
    • Kunsthalle Bern
  • 1979 "CPLY: Reflections on a Past Life," Institute of the Arts, Rice University, Houston
  • 1974 "CPLY/X-RATED," New York Cultural Center, New York

Selected Press[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  2. ^ "Art Directory- William N. Copley". Art Directory. 
  3. ^ Smith, Roberta. "William N. Copley, 77, Painter And Collector of Surrealist Art". New York Times Obituaries. NY Times. 
  4. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  5. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  6. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  7. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  8. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  9. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  10. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  11. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  12. ^ Cummings, Paul. "Oral History Interview with William Copley". Interview. Archives of American Art. 
  13. ^ "Art Directory- William N. Copley". Art Directory. 
  14. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  15. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  16. ^ Cummings, Paul. "Oral History Interview with William Copley". Interview. Archives of American Art. 
  17. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  18. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  19. ^ "Art Directory-". Art Directory. 
  20. ^ "Archives Directory- Copley, William Nelson". The Frick Collection. 
  21. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  22. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  23. ^ "SMS: A Collection of Multiples". Archives. Davidson Galleries. 
  24. ^ "SMS: A Collection of Multiples". Archives. Davidson Galleries. 
  25. ^ Cummings, Paul. "Oral History Interview with William Copley". Interview. Archives of American Art. 
  26. ^ Smith, Roberta. "William N. Copley, 77, Painter And Collector of Surrealist Art". New York Times Obituaries. NY Times. 
  27. ^ "William N. Copley Biography". William N. Copley Estate/Copley LLC, New York. 
  28. ^ Smith, Roberta. "William N. Copley, 77, Painter And Collector of Surrealist Art". New York Times Obituaries. NY Times. 
  29. ^ Smith, Roberta. "William N. Copley, 77, Painter And Collector of Surrealist Art". New York Times Obituaries. NY Times.