Somewhere in the depths of Bushwick, Brooklyn, there is a painting studio. Inside that studio there is a canvas. Behind that canvas is artist John Copeland who is among those few people who manage to squeeze 25 hours out of every day. Working tirelessly for six days of the week, year round, Copeland is in his studio creating paintings and drawings that, as he put it, are about “the moments that don’t really translate into words.”
Painting mainly in acrylics and oils, Copeland translates his questions about the obvious but silenced and awkward moments of life into captivating large-scale paintings that fuse his observations of the world with his characteristic abstract brush technique. As someone who explores tension and strain in his work, Copeland said when it comes to personally dealing with uncomfortable situations, “I’m not sure if I’m any better at it than anyone else is. But tension in a moment between people doesn’t necessarily always mean discomfort.” The ambiguous, bizarre dialogue in Copeland’s work drips off the canvas to give the viewer a sensation of pandemonium and distortion, as if they are just waking up to find themselves surrounded by strange chaos and the unexplainable. Other times, the viewer may feel like a voyeur, as they are exposed to glimpses of nude figures interacting, committing acts of sexuality that are both sensual and violent, without either the knowledge or the care that they are being watched by an outsider’s eye.
“I wanted to be an artist since I was a child. I remember having that thought at the age of five,” said Copeland. Born and raised in California, he went on to pursue his passion for painting at the California College of the Arts. “I had a great experience in art school,” he said. “I worked hard and was lucky to have some exceptional teachers. I don’t think I could make the same work without that knowledge and experience.” Post graduation, Copeland migrated east from his home state of California to set up shop in New York City. Since then he has had a number of notable solo exhibitions at leading galleries such as V1 Gallery in Copenhagen, Reflex Art Gallery in Amsterdam, and the Nicholas Robinson Gallery in New York City. Over the course of his practice Copeland has developed an aesthetic that observes realism through the lens of abstraction. “I can paint and draw very realistically, but that’s not really what I’m after and it’s not what I like in paintings. It’s too straight,” he said. “I’m more interested in using the language of painting and working with the edge of abstraction, working with the push and pull of paint, image, readability, and texture.” The collected pools, globs, and drips of paint within Copeland’s work have a fascinating impact that creates tension, which acts like a visual and conceptual muscle spasm. Every piece jerks from side to side in an exhausting and constant ache, as a pure reflection of the way the undesired but necessary moments of life must take place.
The rare times that Copeland is not in his studio, he’s tinkering around with the second love of his life: motorcycles. “I build and ride vintage motorcycles and I have a large shop in Brooklyn that I split with a couple friends. I have three Harley-Davidsons – a ’59 Panhead, a ’61 dual carb Pan/Shovel, and a ’67 Shovelhead,” said Copeland. Along with a bunch of other art-loving bikers, Copeland is a member of The White Knights in the House of Kolor, a Brooklyn-based motorcycle and art collective.
With a full year of exhibitions lined up, including a solo show in Galleria Marabini in Bologna, Italy (fall 2012) and another at Reflex Art Gallery in Amsterdam (spring 2013), it’s hard to imagine a break in Copeland’s routine, hermit-like work ethic. “Well, I do work a lot, but there are days when I’m not feeling it and it’s important to take a day off,” he said. “Never getting out of the studio can be a problem too so I’ve been trying to be a little more balanced with my work schedule.” That being said, we hope that John Copeland continues to slave away in his studio. That is, of course, unless The Lab can get him to build us a custom motorcycle. That would be really awesome!