John Copeland’s most recent body of work formulates an attack on both abstraction and figuration with a forceful angst. Sourcing his artistic inspiration from vintage magazines, postcards, and old photographs he finds in thrift stores, the artist weaves an intricate line between what is real and what is imagined.
Executed in Copeland’s traditional primary-colour-heavy palette, Violent Music/ Fragile Feels(2020-21) moves the furthest into abstraction from the entire collection of paintings. Other works in the series, Omnivore (2020-21) or In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up (2020-21), for example, amalgamate thick impasto brushwork with clearly identifiable everyday scenes. Quotidian, unembellished folk are enveloped within Copeland’s canvases, tucked beneath frenzied brushwork on raw canvas. These instantly recognisable scenes are emblematic of our own lives, they translate as moments we relate to, having seen or experienced them before. However, while Omnivore and In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up present scenes of relatable figuration, the works simultaneously emphatically affirm that they are, indeed, paintings. The two pieces focus on Copeland’s expressive brushwork and mark-making, allowing the compositions to slip fluidly from realistic scenes into abstracted strokes of colour.
Violent Music/ Fragile Feels rejects this trajectory, presenting an image almost entirely defined by abstraction. The painting comprises dynamic flesh tones alongside lashings of vivid reds, blues, and yellows, seemingly sourced straight from the tube itself. Copeland’s application of paint is dictated by a frenetic energy which climaxes at the centre of the composition. This area of the painting can be regarded as the most figurative, displaying suggestions of an arm, face, or perhaps a torso. These whispers of realistic details are tantalisingly placed in order to encourage closer and more considered looking. As viewers, we are left with little to grasp onto, and are thus encouraged to look longer and deeper at the scene before us
(By Eleanor Lerman)