Night Shift at High Noon, completed under lockdown in New York in the spring of 2020, revisits themes that Copeland has explored extensively over a number of years. Alluding to established art historical tropes, the work sees figures gather around an activity or a table. Copeland goes far beyond the early attempts at deconstructed compositions of the same subject, experimented with by Paul Cézanne or Vincent Van Gogh, his scene is entirely abstracted as he stretches his forms across the breath of the canvas with thick applications of paint. Over time, Copeland’s work has moved increasingly towards abstraction, and in these works he subverts expectation by taking the object at the centre of the subject’s activity or attention, and abstracts it even further, breaking up and complicating the subject-ground relationship.
In doing so, he wrestles with the relationship between figuration and form, the work is as much about the material process of building the composition as creating the perfect finished image.
Much of Copeland’s work deals with the body and human interaction, and he has stated that the themes within this painting now seem more relevant than ever, stating: ‘the inability to have physical interactions with others, the suspension of touch, in a way makes these feel even more visceral.’ The flattening the space between the subjects and their setting makes this even more prescient. It suggests our heightened awareness of our surroundings and how we are often determined by them.
About the Artist
Born in California in 1976, John Copeland studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he gained a BFA in 1998. Upon graduating, Copeland moved to New York, where he continues to live and work.
His earliest work incorporated objects into his paintings and drawings, creating installation style works, before moving away from this approach to focus on single canvases and works on paper. The relationship between abstraction and figuration has been a continuous focus throughout Copeland’s career. Copeland has stated, ‘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.’