John Coplans

Self Portraits
December 10, 1999 – January 22, 2000
Main Gallery
Installation Views
image
Press Release

"I have been asked to provide some comments on my work. This request reminds me of the statement by a British Victorian architect to the effect that talking about art is like taking ones ears and making flaps of them to fit over one's eyes: the viewer hears but sees nothing.

I began as an artist more than half a century ago. Unfortunately, along the way I got interested in talking about art. Very soon I became a critic. I wrote books and articles about art, edited a well-known art magazine, and organized exhibitions of artists. I talked so much about art that I stopped making art.

In 1980 I decided to become an artist again, and to forswear talking about art, including my own. Paradoxically, whether I liked it or not, I found I couldn't make my art without talking.

My art consists of photographs of my headless body, or parts thereof; I don't take the photographs. I have to tell an assistant such things as what part of my body I want photographed, the scale of the image and its position in relationship to the edge, etc. for the photograph to be made. I also have to discuss control of the shadows thrown by the artificial lighting I use. Once the photo has been taken I must explain how I want the image printed: soft, hard, dark or light, what parts to burn or dodge, or perhaps to crop, and to try different sizes for me to find out which I think is best. It gets somewhat simpler after this: I just have to tell the dry mounter how I want the image mounted and the framer what kind of frame I need. Once the artwork is finished I have to decide the title. All my images are called self portraits, but each needs to be identified. I do this by naming the photographed body part, for example, Self Portrait: Finger, followed by the year that the image was taken. I communicate this to an assistant who writes it on the back of the print.

You can now deduce that I actually don't DO anything. I talk. Other than signing the print when it is finished I make my art by telling other people what to do. I see the image in my mind and then talk it into being."

John Coplans
29 October 1999


John Coplans new exhibit at Andrea Rosen Gallery includes two new bodies of work, "Self Portrait; Fingers" and "Self Portrait; Hands on Knees".