John Coplans British, 1920-
Before launching into a full-time pursuit of photography at age 60, John Coplans (born in London) was a teacher, curator, and editor. He served in the British armed forces (1938-46), taking up painting in London and Paris in the years following.
Immigrating to the United States in 1960, Coplans settled in San Francisco to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years later, he founded the periodical Artforum and continued as its editor until 1980. He also worked as curator of the Pasadena Art Museum (1967-70) and then as director of the Akron Art Museum (1978-80), during which time he founded the midwestern art magazine Dialogue.
Coplans moved to New York in 1980 and turned his attention to photography. Since 1984 he has worked on an extended series of self-portraits. Standing before a stark white background, he observes himself through a video monitor and works with an assistant who snaps Polaroid negatives at the artist's discretion. The photographs, varying in scale and largely excluding the face and head, suggest psychological and emotional states through gesture, abstract composition, and the symbolic connotations of the male nude subject.
One-person exhibitions of Coplans's work have been held at the Art Institute of Chicago (1981, 1988), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1988), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1988), the Musée de la Vieille Charité, Marseille (1989), the Frankfurter Kunstverein (1990), the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1990), and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (1991). He has received numerous awards for both his photographs and his criticism, including the Frank Jewitt Mather Award of the College Art Association (1974), and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1969, 1985) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1975, 1980, 1986, 1992). His artist's books include A Body of Work (1987), Hand (1988), and Foot (1989). Coplans lives in New York. A.W.