W I L L I A M N.
COPL E Y WOM E N
PAUL KASMIN G A L L ERY
O P POS ITE, A N D ON PAGE S 8-11 : CPLY’s Reply to the Break Up At the Wasteland of Good Taste, originally published in CPLY: Bilder und Zeichnungen, (Galerie Klewan, Munich, 1981). Copley’s text features aphoristic remarks and is one of several prose pieces by Copley published in the artist’s exhibition catalogues.
Battle of the Sexes No.2, 1974 acrylic on cotton 62 5/8 x 112 5/8 inches, 159.1 x 286.1 cm 56
visited New York with some regularity and frequently I stayed in Bill’s studio on West 67th Street. The studio was piled high with decades of pornographic magazines: his source materials. He was clearly making a huge shift in his paintings: from the subtly erotic to full bodied pornography. The X-Rated paintings were difficult for me at first, but over the years I have come to have great respect for this work. I see enormous courage and joy in these paintings. I think it is rare to see a painter so openly reveal his fantasies about women and sex. There is a kind of celebratory mood in these works. The colors, background patterns, and expressions are bright, even exuberant. He is trying not to hide anything; to break through the moral code that had kept his work shrouded in symbolism and humor until now. He knew these paintings would be shocking, and they were, but it was a logical extension of his previous work, simply dialed up a few notches. After the initial show at the New York Cultural Center, the bulk of the paintings were put away for almost forty years, only to be seen again after his death with the re-staged X-Rated exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery in 2010. When Bill lived in Roxbury, Connecticut, in the early 1980s, and was between his third and fourth wife, he kept a few horses. He had always loved horses and had dreams of being a jockey in his youth. When he bought a horse for himself and named her “Mother”, I was puzzled. It became clear in the months that followed what it was about this that he enjoyed. After riding he would describe her as “an old nag” and deride her Title, 1969 as moody, slow or nasty. The pleasure he oil on canvas got from trash-talking Mother was nothing X x X inches, X x X cm. less than perverse. He took an inner need and found a way to make it real, and gain Rights line? 76
control over it, much as he did as an artist. I have heard it said that he loved women, and also that he hated them. Probably both are true. He was never afraid of contradiction. His paintings of women are full of joy and lust and the sheer love of painting. There is also intensity, and a dollop of discomfort. While many of his closest friends were women, his mentors were men. Overall, his personal and professional life was completely focused on women. To me, the absence of love and connection haunts these paintings. I suppose this is completely understandable in a person who was a foundling and raised by surrogates. The images in this exhibition are but some of his women. The women who ruled, directed, complicated and controlled his life. His lovers, whores, mothers, friends, daughters, sisters, caretakers and destroyers. His life was obsession with art and with women. He never shied away from enigma. One painting in this exhibition illustrates this very clearly: Mother Figure from 1966. The pink nude in her pink boudoir leans on a pedestal and gazes into what could be a portrait, or could be a mirror. Returning her gaze is CPLY, or his version of the everyman, dressed in his usual green tweed and bowler hat. The woman lives in the world, the man lives in the frame. As my father would say, therein lies the rub. •
Installation views from The Tomb of the Unknown Whore, the New Museum, New York, 1986. Photos: Nathan Rabin
Untitled, 1975 acrylic on canvas 46 x 35 inches, 116.8 x 88.9 cm 82