William N. Copley, "X-Rated"

Copley's porny Pop Art resurfaces.

  • Photograph: Paul Kasmin Gallery


  • Photograph: Paul Kasmin Gallery


  • Photograph: Paul Kasmin Gallery


Photograph: Paul Kasmin Gallery


Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Artist, collector, patron of modern art, William N. Copley (1919--1996) was born in New York City, where he was orphaned as a baby. Adopted by a utilities magnate from Illinois, Copley was raised in Southern California in wealthy circumstances, attending Andover and Yale before serving in the army during WWII. He became a reporter, but discovered art when he was introduced to Surrealism by his brother-in-law, an animator at Disney. Copley opened a gallery in Beverly Hills, befriended Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and was soon showing them, along with Max Ernst and Ren Magritte, among others.

Encouraged by Ray to try his own hand at painting, Copley (who signed his work CPLY) taught himself, developing a satirical style that drew upon cartoons, Matisse, and the erotic, offbeat content of Dada and Surrealism. His most overtly sexual works are the "X-Rated" paintings, which were first shown at the Huntington Hartford Museum in 1974 and are now on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery. These 23 canvases use hard-core porn as the point of departure for hilarious romps through the bedroom. Adding a reference to Pop Art, a movement that Copley is considered a precursor to, the paintings are titled after films.

A redhead splays her body on a checkered bedspread in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; a long-haired dude mounts a temptress in a tricolored corner in Destry Rides Again; and a tattooed hunk suckles a blond's nipple in a floral-wallpapered room in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.

Expressively rendered (and resolutely heterosexual), Copley's paintings possess the same manic energy as the '70s sexual revolution. Exuberantly explicit, they capture their subjects with cunning, outsidery charm.

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Paul Kasmin Gallery, through Sat 11