American artist William N. Copley (1919-1996), also known by his adopted moniker CPLY (pronounced ‘see-ply’), is widely celebrated for his eccentric and erotic imagery that combines a distinct sensibility of Pop and Surrealism. In 1948, when the artist was twenty-nine, Copley opened the Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills. During its brief six-month existence, Copley and his brother-in-law, John Ployardt, mounted exhibitions by several seminal Surrealists including René Magritte, Joseph Cornell, Roberto Matta, Man Ray and Yves Tanguy, followed by the first Max Ernst retrospective exhibition in America. After closing the gallery in early 1949 and at the encouragement of Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, Copley focused on his career as an artist with a newfound commitment. In the succeeding decades, Copley would live in both France and New York, developing a singular painting style that brought him international recognition. Among Copley’s notable museum shows was the retrospective at Stedelijk Museum in 1966 and a traveling retrospective organized by Kunsthalle Bern in 1980.
The Temptation of St. Anthony, an installation of Copley’s acrylic mirror artworks created in 1977, was first presented in New York at Brooks Jackson Gallery Iolas in 1978, and then re-staged at the artist’s retrospective in Kunsthalle Bern. Copley completed the designs for the mirrors working in tandem with his assistant Eddie Hemsley. The present exhibition of Copley’s mirrors at Nino Mier Gallery marks the most recent iteration of this iconic installation and is comprised of Estate editions completed in 2012. These shaped and finely etched acrylic mirrors depict recognizable motifs and narratives from the lexicon of CPLY. One such example reveals a Duchampian descent of overlapping male figures in modern attire and bowler hats, representing either one or many men drinking, or dancing to a saloon tune. Several feature nude or semi-nude female figures, several calling to mind the sensuous curves of Ingres’s Odalisque, while others recall traditional themes of portraiture in painting. Appropriating art historical references within the context of modern-day scenes, Copley’s creates images that are at once emblematic of the artist’s canny wit and simultaneously serve as critical reflections by which the viewer’s gaze is directed back onto oneself and thus upon contemporary society.
Drawings 1964-1991, the companion exhibition at Nino Mier Gallery, features a selection of works on paper from the celebrated Nouns and X-Rated series of the early 1970s, and a prolific cycle of drawings from 1991, when Copley revisited key images from past works. Copley’s eccentrically rendered figures populate a “private mythology”, as he called it, that explores humor, satire, and sexual and cultural politics. Tracing the evolution of Copley’s idiosyncratic visual language as well as his persistent experimentation with line, pattern, allegory and humor, the presentation offers significant insights into Copley’s diverse practice.