In the mid-1950s, Coplans began attending lectures by Lawrence Alloway at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Here he was introduced to the budding Pop Art movement, which he would become deeply involved in as both critic and curator. His experience viewing exhibitions such as the Hard-Edged Painting exhibition (ICA, 1959) and New American Painting (The Tate, 1959) helped to solidify his growing passion for not just Pop Art, but American art as well.
During this period he struggled as a young artist to find his artistic voice, and developed an abstract painting practice which reflected trends of tachism and Abstract Expressionism pioneered by Americans Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Coplans would later refer to this early painting work as "derivative"; these paintings were shown in exhibitions at the Royal Society of British Artists (1950) and later at the New Vision Center.
In 1960, Coplans sold all of his belongings and moved to the United States, initially settling in San Francisco and taking a position at UC Berkeley as a visiting assistant design professor. Here he met gallerist Phil Leider, the future editor of ArtForum. Leider connected Coplans to John Irwin, who wanted to start a magazine. Coplans convinced Irwin that the West Coast needed an art publication: one that gave voice to art that was important, but had not yet received critical attention. He further suggested that it should be published in square format so that both vertical and horizontal images would be viewed equally, thus giving birth to ArtForum's iconic shape—and to the successful foundation of ArtForum itself. Coplans was a regular writer for the magazine. His perspective on art writing was anti-elitist, using popular appeal and excitement over new work to “stimulate debate and awareness” especially for West Coast artists.
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Coplans, John (2002). A Body. New York: powerHouse Books. ISBN 1-57687-136-3