At once concrete and abstract, humorous and poignant, Coplans' work is the result of an exploration of possible variations within parameters that include subject, perception, and montage. John Coplans continues the photographic investigation into the body of work started in 1984, known collectively as Self Portraits. Along with the emblematic Self Portrait (Elbow), 2000, two bodies of work will be exhibited - a selection from the Self Portrait (Interlocking Fingers) series, 1999-2000 and the entire Self Portrait (Sideways) series, 2001.
Eighty-one years old this year, Coplans' images embrace as well as parody the notion of the heroic male body, muscular, strong and charged with a sexual potential. At the same time, advanced age, it seems, has eroded the physical as well as the erotic. However, beyond the natural process of shriveled muscles and general physical loss, Coplans' images still remain fresh and an open field for all projection. It is quite a testament to the strength of his work that the photographs of his headless body consistently remain totemic and symbolic.
For example, the image Self Portrait (Elbow), 2000, a double-paneled view of the inside of the artist's upper arm stretching from the shoulder to the elbow becomes transformed by isolation from the rest of the body to which it is attached and reads as the torso of a naked woman. There is no theatrical fragment here to remind us of the embattled warrior. Rather, an alternative reading is provoked by an image of what was once a muscular male that has become transformed into a wrinkled body verging on the feminine.
The nine photographs titled Self Portrait (Interlocking Fingers), 1999-2000, are but a small selection of images culled from the twenty-three photographs in the series. The selection is significant in that they are the few that Coplans has chosen to print in a new larger size (50 x 42 inches versus 31 x 24 inches). Although the series has never been shown in its entirety, many museum goers had the opportunity to view four of the photographs in the last Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (2000). The images revisit a primary theme John has been investigating for over sixteen years – his hands. All the years of experience and gleaned information have allowed these photographs to be even more informed and profound. This particular series consists of variations of the artist's two hands, locked as if in a pantomime dialogue with one another, and are very likely some of the most beautiful works he has made. Partly due to being extreme close-up details printed large scale, the images shift constantly from the obvious to the abstract, eventually evoking a sense of calmness and peace in their beauty.
In the more recent series Self Portrait(Sideways), 2001, shown here in its entirety, Coplans presents two paneled images of the body active and in motion. No clue is given as to the nature of the activity other than motion.
The three bodies of work presented together in this exhibition unveil how varied the single subject can be and how three different aspects of work can inform and be informed by one another other.