| Alfred (Al) Copley is primarily known as Lewin Alcopley
|Biography from David Findlay Jr. Gallery:|
|ALCOPLEY, ARTIST AND SCIENTIST WITHOUT BOUNDARIES |
by Una Dora Copley
My father, Alcopley (1910-1992), was a significant abstract painter
and as a scientist, he (Alfred Copley) made major contributions to
physiology. While pursuing a career as a research biologist, he
was actively involved in the creation of the New York School (painters
and sculptors associated with Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting,
Fluxus and Color Field painting.) A great draftsman and a master
of the brush, he exhibited in major museums. Now, fifteen years
after his death, his work is receiving renewed and even greater
He grew up in Dresden, a baroque city where off-beat artists
flourished, those of the Blaue Reiter; Die Brucke; and the German
Expressionists. Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix taught at the
Dresden Academy. Although the art-going public was shocked, for
the more adventurous, the images were exciting. Dresden was a
perfect place for a young creative person.
While Weimar society had been vibrant and modern, by the 1930s
Germany became a land of fear and paranoia. As a witness to the
infamous bonfire book burnings of Heidelberg’s library, Alcopley was
appalled by the destruction of knowledge and Hitler’s revisionist views
of German culture. He left Germany after he obtained his first
doctorate. He was honored with a doctor honoris causa
from Heidelberg in 1972, which I was proud to help celebrate. He
moved to Switzerland in 1935, where be earned his second doctorate at
Basel. Before he left Germany, he began to draw and paint.
He was passionate about scientific work, and equally about painting. In
Switzerland, he split his time between the two disciplines, which
continued for the rest of his life.
Unable to return to Germany, he found that America beckoned.
In 1937, Alcopley sailed to New York. He had found a country that
was young, big enough to expand in and open to all who wanted to
achieve their goals. After living in Charlottesville,VA. and
Kansas City, he returned to New York and a Greenwich Village apartment.
One of his first friends was philosopher Hannah Arendt. He also
met Willem de Kooning and began visiting the Cedar Bar and nearby
Waldorf Cafeteria with him, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Mark
Rothko. At these establishments one could discuss ideas.
Alcopley was a man of ideas. He approached everything with
insight. He was interested in everything from the small - what he
saw in his microscope, to the large - the endless universe. In
science, he made analytical observations. In paintings, he
incorporated his passion for life.
He was a great communicator with boundless energy, and I think of
all his friends, he was the most outgoing. His circle included
artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, dancers, and
composers. He drew inspiration from music, dance, ambient sounds,
and interpreted these in the dialect of the brush stroke. His
love of music is reflected in his art.
He became lifelong friends with Martin Heidegger, the philosopher;
architect Frederick Kiesler; composer Edgar Varese; choreographer Erick
Hawkins; sculptor David Smith; and Zen Master Shin'ichi
Hisamatsu. Until they decided to rent a space of their own, they
met at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park, the Cedar Bar,
the Waldorf Cafeteria, or at Ibram and Ernestine Lassaw's loft.
That was the beginning of The Club, a seminal group of artists who
exemplified the creativity of American art. The Club became a
central meeting ground for the group of artists that would later be
known as the New York School. The exchange of ideas could
continue there, without interfering with anyone's workspace or dealing
with barkeepers who needed the tables they monopolized.
Alcopley, one of the seven founding members, and many other members of
the Club were featured in the groundbreaking Ninth Street Show, the
first major group exhibition of the New York School.
He believed that art and science shared the same creative
spark. In his scientific work, he was a maverick. He was
especially interested in the flow properties of blood. Questions
that he sought to answer were: What makes blood flow? Why does it
coagulate in air? What causes hemorrhaging? Why do patients go
into shock after surgery? What is the cause of thrombosis?
His research was fundamental. He sought answers on a physiological
level. He was not a hematologist but a physiologist. One of the
things he liked to say was "Everything flows.” If everything flows,
then how is it that clots occur in closed systems like our
bodies? He had ideas regarding such questions that differed from
the accepted theories. These were proven to be true, and
scientists discovered that Alfred Copley was right. He
contributed to changing the way patients are now being treated for
illnesses he studied. Al founded two new sciences: Biorheology
(the flow properties of biological matter) and Hemorheology (flow
properties of blood).
While the scientist who called himself Alfred Copley was reshaping
our knowledge of physiology, his alter ego, Alcopley the painter, was
working on the same issues with paint. As if working in science
and art was not enough, Alcopley founded and was editor-in-chief of
three scientific journals: Further, he was involved as editor for
several other journals, including Leonardo, an art magazine for artists writing about their own work, and Acupuncture Today,
when that therapy was still controversial. A reporter once asked him
how he found time to do everything. He answered: "Well, I eat fast and
In 1945, Al attended an opening at The New Art Circle, a
gallery located in the Fuller Building on 57" Street, owned by J.B.
Neumann. It was a striking exhibition with powerful oil paintings
by an artist with a foreign name. Asked if he wanted to meet the
artist, Al said that he would like to meet "him". J.B. introduced
Al to "a beautiful blonde." Thus, Alcopley met Nina
Tryggvadottir, my mother. They were married in April, 1949.
Later that year, Nina traveled to her native Iceland for her
exhibition. Alcopley went to meet her when she returned and was
horrified as she was interned for deportation back to Iceland.
They discovered that she had been denounced as a Communist. We never
found out the origin of this untrue accusation, but recently when I was
going through some papers, I discovered that she had dated Clifford
Odets before she met and married Al. The playwright is remembered
today for his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American
Activities, where he famously "named names" in 1949. Perhaps
Odets dropped Nina's name as the act of a jilted lover. My
parents both worked to straighten out this blunder so she could return
home. Meanwhile, in New York, Alcopley continued to participate
in the affairs of The Club.
HIs art work is closer in style to that of Barnett Newman or Ad
Reinhardt than to Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. He
striped away extraneous matters. His interest in science was at
its most basic level, and his paintings and drawings also reflect
parsimony. He sought an uncluttered path. Although he cannot be
called a minimalist, Alcopley certainly was one of the artists that
pointed in that direction. He never abandoned the dialectic of
the brush. His late paintings are often reduced to a single or a
series of individual brush strokes that describe a moment, a movement,
an emotion, an observation or a combination of these.
Because of Nina's forced exile, we were united again in Paris in
1952. My parents chose not to be bitter expatriates. Making
the best of their situation, they became involved in the European
contemporary art scene. Wherever they went they attracted like-thinking
In Paris, Alcopley met Jean Arp, Julius Bissier, and Pierre
Soulages. They started "Le Club," meeting at the Cafe
Flore. We stayed in Paris until 1957, when we moved to
London. My dad had a contract for research with Charing Cross
Hospital and so, when Nina received her "you can come back now"
telegram from the US government, we did not return to New York until
Alcopley was offered citizenship in France and England, but his heart
belonged to America and his yearly visits to the US reinforced his
desire to return home. In London, they exhibited their works
extensively. Nina Tryggvadottir became and remains one of the
best loved artists of Iceland. She died in 1968, and he outlived
Nina by twenty-four years
After Nina's death, Alcopley continued to exhibit in galleries and
museums around the world. He traveled extensively for his art,
but also as a speaker in scientific conferences, receiving many honors
and awards. His creativity resulted in a large body of paintings
and drawings. He was nominated twice by his scientific colleagues
for the Nobel Prize, and was planning experiments for studies on the
behavior of blood in zero gravity to be included in the space shuttle.
Alcopley (Alfred Copley) died in January, 1992 before that could be
done. He worked until his last week. Alcopley's spark is an
inspiration. He could not retire. My father simply had too much
to accomplish. Alcopley was a true Renaissance man.
Fittingly, Al and Nina have now been reunited in the Fuller Building on
the walls of David Findlay Jr. Fine Art.
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