Newport Street Gallery presents an exhibition of work by American artist John Copeland (b.1976). Copeland’s first UK solo exhibition features twenty-five paintings, dating from 2009 to 2017, taken from the Murderme collection.
Veering between representation and abstraction, Copeland’s paintings feature tactile, impasto surfaces, rendered in oil and acrylic paint. Professing an interest in ‘any arrangement that involves interaction between the figures’, Copeland often situates his subjects in social settings – around a table, playfully balanced on one another’s shoulders, or surveying a painting as a group. The figures remain, however, deeply ambiguous, and are set against abstract backgrounds populated by curious, amorphous shapes. The unnerving quality of the imagery is heightened by the appearance of pairs or mirrored human forms, as in The Bullet Screams Past (2015).
Copeland’s habitual use of familiar art historical motifs – the nude, the table and the skull, for example – allow him to explore the complications inherent to image-making and representation. The Brooklyn-based artist describes the content of the canvases as a ‘starting point for a conversation or a digression… like a riddle or a bit of a poem [that] raises questions that aren’t really answerable’. He works from a plethora of found sources, usually photographic; mid twentieth-century magazine cut-outs, Americana and biker imagery among others. His work is, in large part, an exploration of the ‘act of looking’. He states: ‘I’m concerned with the dynamic between surface and undercurrent, myths and realities. All of my work plays with the act of viewing and being aware of the act of viewing, in terms of our collective visual culture and the images we see with every day.’