New York


Phyllis Kind Gallery

In the history of postwar American art, this artist’s long and distinguished career remains an anomaly. Since he first began painting, in the late ’40s, Cply (the pseudonym of William N. Copley) has adamantly refused to deal with any of the “big” issues, such as abstraction (or formalism) or the validation of the object. His art can be described as a cartoony extension of Surrealism and its concern with erotic pleasures. His figures, mostly women, are voluptuous and curvilinear, while the ground tends to be made up of flat, patterned planes that are often layered in a deceptively simple manner. The results are pithy, lascivious, and tender: looking is equated with ogling.

Titled “Acopleyshments,” this survey of works dating from 1955 to 1985 formed an imaginative diary of the high jinks of a Victorian gentleman in a bowler hat and suit (or, on occasion, a Keystone Cop uniform). He and any number of semidressed women cavort in a bawdy never-never land of highways, hotel rooms, and cafés; in fact, one could say that Cply’s hedonistic vision not only prefigured Paul McCartney’s “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” but far exceeds such boundaries: Cply seems to want to do it anywhere and everywhere.

Cply is a tragicomic quasi pornographer who reminds us that we need not fee] guilty about wanting pleasure and that sex can be both joyous and illicit, rather than egoistical and enervating. In refusing to prove that he is serious about serious issues, he has overcome the puritanism that haunts the contemporary art world. In returning us to the arena of pleasure with a deadpan eye, he reminds us that the imagination’s provinces can be innocently rambunctious places.

John Yau