John Coplans

John Coplans, English, 1920‐2003

SelfPortrait (Clenched Fist, Dark), 1988

Artist: John Coplans


            Dates of birth/death Born-1920 Died 2003

            Place of Birth: London, England, while on a visit from South Africa

            Current residence: Died in New York City, NY

            Education: in South Africa and England

            Employment: editorial staff of Artforum from 1962 to 1971, and was Editor-in-Chief from 1972 to 1977.

Major Shows/Galleries

After a full career as an art critic editor, and author, his first solo show at the Daniel Wolf gallery in NYC in 1981 honed in on the physical landscapes of the body with a sculptural focus.

In 1986, he had his first show of self-portraits at the Pace/MacGill gallery, New York. The work was rapidly acquired and shown by the J Paul Getty Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum;

1997: ''John Coplans: A Self-Portrait''  at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Queens, NY


He received the Frank Jewitt Mather Award of the College Art Association for services to art criticism in 1974; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships in 1969 and 1985; and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1975, 1980, 1986, and 1992.

Media: Photography

Technique: Coplans is known for his series of black and white self-portraits which are a frank study of the naked, aging body. He photographed his body from the base of his foot to the wrinkles on his hand. As he never photographed his face, his images are not focused on a specific man or identity.


Contextual information

            Influences (historical/personal/political): Travelling extensively as a child and regularly visiting London museums, he was moved by an Exhibit of American art at the Tate in the late fifties.  He immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 and was big supporter of contemporary art.



            Anecdotes, Quotes, web links to articles (highlight which articles may be worth making a hard copy for the binder) 

in 1960, left England for California. The move - and his decision to divorce his first wife - was also, curiously, influenced by his viewing of the post-nuclear war movie, On The Beach (1959).

Obituary :