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 Lewin Alcopley  (1910 - 1992)

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About: Lewin Alcopley


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Lived/Active: New York / France/Germany      Known for: abstract painting, physiologist

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Alfred (Al) Copley is primarily known as Lewin Alcopley

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Ad Code: 3
Alfred Copley
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from David Findlay Jr. Gallery:
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 appreciation.

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 sleep little."
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 people.

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 December, 1959.

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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