Artist William N. Copley (1919-1996) is best known for ribald figurative paintings that approached postwar American vernacular culture with a Surrealist eye. But Copley, who worked under the name CPLY, was also a gallerist, a collector, and a patron of the cluster of European Surrealist emigres who landed in post-war Los Angeles. For this year’s Independent, the New York-based gallery Alden Projects™ will present an archival presentation devoted to a lesser-known facet of Copley’s multivalent career: his work as a publisher.
Orphaned as an infant, the artist was adopted in 1921 by the wealthy newspaper tycoon (and former Illinois congressman) Ira Copley and his wife Edith. After stints at Yale and in the army, Copley joined the family business, working as a reporter for the San Diego Tribune. Through his brother-in-law John Ployardt, an animator at Walt Disney Studios, Copley became acquainted with Man Ray, who in turn introduced him to Marcel Duchamp in the late 1940s. Copley would ultimately become one of Duchamp’s closest friends and confidantes: he was among the few people Duchamp allowed into his studio to view his last masterpiece, "Étant Données," in progress, and later oversaw its donation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
After his father’s death in 1947, Copley left the paper, and devoted himself to artistic pursuits: he began painting more seriously and used some of his inheritance to open a Surrealist-focused gallery in Los Angeles with Ployardt, where they exhibited the work of Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Matta, and Yves Tanguy. The gallery was financially disastrous, but Copley had promised the artists sales of at least 10% of each exhibition; rarely able to find buyers, he wound up purchasing the works himself, in the process forming one of the most significant private collections of Surrealist art.