1920 -2003


Abstract 1958

oil and mixed media on board

98 x 76.5 cm


signed and dated John Coplans '58 on the reverse and further inscribed

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John Coplans was born in London in 1920. The son of a doctor in medicine and art amateur, he spent most of his childhood between London and South Africa. In 1937, aware of the global danger posed by Nazi Germany, he joined the British army. He fought until 1945 in East Africa, then in India and Burma.

In 1946, John Coplans started an art degree but quickly gave up. He moved to London. For ten years or so, he has painted and contributed to the rise of abstract art, in the wake of lyrical abstraction, then Hard Edge. Coplans was a key exhibitor in the seminal "Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract" exhibition held at the Redfern Gallery in 1957. 


In 1960, Coplans sold all his belongings and emigrated to the United States, moving to San Francisco. In 1962, he participated in the creation of Artforum. The magazine quickly established itself as a monthly reference for art and creative news. The first of its kind on the West Coast, it supported and united artists, helping to bring out the “Los Angeles scene” and “West Coast art”. Coplans was its editor from 1971 to 1977 (in New York, where the magazine moved in 1967). 

John Coplans was also a curator, director of the Art Gallery of the University of California at Irvine (1965‑1967) and Senior Curator of the Pasadena Art Museum in (1967-1970). From 1978 to 1980, he directed the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. At this time, he began his first photographic experiments. 

In 1980, he decided to cease these activities to become an artist again and to devote himself to photography for which he is now much better known. He moved to New York. From 1985 onwards, he exhibited regularly in France and Europe. In 1988, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) set up the first major exhibition of the photographer, which was then presented at the MoMA in New York the same year. John Coplans died in New York on August 21, 2003.


There is currently a major exhibition of his photographs - 'John Coplans. La Vie des Forms' - at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris until Jan 2022.


John Coplans