Meet John Copeland

The first thing that strikes you when looking at a John Copeland painting is the gloriously thick layers of paint that makes up the image. The first time I saw a painting by him, I could hear the person next to me exclaim, “Yum, that paint looks delicious!” and I think this describes his paintings well. The thick and gloopy paint resembles the texture of frosting and is mesmerizing to look at. Your eye can’t help but follow the swirls and ripples of the paint, all the while imagining what kind of gestural sweeps and flicks of John’s hand achieved them.

Spider's Bones, John Copeland

John Copeland was born in California and graduated from the California College of Arts and Craft, he currently lives and works in New York. John has achieved worldwide success, with solo exhibitions in Copenhagen, Bologna and San Francisco. At Newport Street Art Gallery you can find his first solo UK exhibition, on until the 28th May 2018. In John’s work I can see the mix of East and West coast as beneath the alluring surface of the paint lies a different image. Whilst I am straight away drawn to the texture and application of the paint itself and the beautiful way it sits on the canvas, as I examine the content of the image a darkness creeps in. There is a great sense not only of us looking in, but of the figures looking defiantly back out at us. The flirtatious figures wink back at you, but also leave you feeling somewhat like an intruder or voyeur. This psychologically engaging interaction between painted and real life people reflects John’s ability to inject vitality into the image.

John works from a wide range of source material, including his father’s Playboy magazines and old photos. These images are then pushed into abstraction through his expressionistic style. John has admitted to an obsession with painting the figure explaining, “it’s such a simple thing that can have a million permutations, both conceptually and as a form”.  Despite this love for the human body, at times it is hardly recognisable in John’s work. The thick and fluid layers of paint often obscure the face of the figure, adding a sense of mystery to the work.

Stray Bullets, John Copeland

The use of magazines and advertisements as part of the source material for John’s work reveals itself in the colours of the painting. Every now and then the pink and beige fleshy tones are interrupted with flashes and streaks of vibrant red and artificial green. These can be seen to reflect the commercial beginnings of the work, reflecting the bright colours of advertisements and bold contrasts of magazine pages. A particular favourite ‘Transmission (Imaginary Rules)’ shows a woman in her underwear blowing a bubblegum bubble with neon-red hair. It is as though we are watching her in the precious moments before the bubble is about to burst…

Transmission, John Copeland

John is like a magician, transforming gestural sweeps and scribbles of paint and conjuring out of them the human form. As you look closer a variety of marks appear, evidence of his complex  quest for representation. Matte lumps of paint, resembling miniature mountain ranges collide with drips and splashes of wet, gloopy paint. Together they form a surface of unmeasurable fascination, simultaneously concealing and revealing an image of modern life.

 We are delighted to have John Copeland as a contributing artist to the Secret Auction at The Other Art Fair 2018!


About the Writer

Isabel Casey: I’m a History of Art graduate from the University of Manchester, currently pursuing a career in the contemporary art world.  In my free time I venture around London visiting new exhibitions to inspire my own artistic practise.



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