William N. Copley in Time Out New York

February 02, 2015

Time Out New York

The best upcoming art shows in 2015

January 2, 2015

Anne Doran

This delightful exhibition brings together works on paper from William N. Copley (1919-1996), the iconoclastic American painter who signed his works CPLY. A wealthy patron of the Surrealists, Copley taught himself to paint in the late 1940s, developing a cartoonish style that combined Matisse's love of patterns, Picabia's subversiveness and Krazy Kat creator George Herriman's knowing humor. His recurring motifs have included a tweed-suited everyman who pursues life, liberty and pneumatic blonds while being pursued, in turn, by angry gendarmes and wives.

Some of Copley's '70s-vintage drawings are related to two groups of his Pop-influenced canvases: "Nouns," which depict ordinary items like tools, and "X-Rated Paintings," based on pictures from porn magazines. In the former, an overstuffed sofa epitomizes Victorian probity, while a view of the corner of a room speaks of claustrophobia and existential despair. The latter includes what could be viewed as an icon of the period's sexual revolution: a hirsute woman, clad only in a crocheted top. However, a series of ascending triangles defining her torso (her pubis an opening around her navel and her plunging neckline) also suggests a nod to Brancusi's Endless Column--one of several references to modern art in the show. Some artists' drawings shed light on their working process. Copley's--absurdist, affecting and politically incorrect--are the pure expression of an irreverent spirit. 

The Bottom Line: One of art history's original bad boy's is back. 

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