Antique Prints and Antique Furniture

JOHN COPNALL BIOGRAPHY


'Painting is colour and colour is painting." So said the artist John Copnall, who died aged 79, for whom colour was the distinctive force of his work. Although he was also a fine draughtsman who taught life class in art schools, his own paintings are dominated, even intoxicated, by the intense power of colour. He passionately revelled in colour; it informs all his very distinctive work.
Copnall was born at Slinfield, Sussex, into an artistic household. His father, the eminent sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall, decided that architecture would be a lucrative career for his son, and at 18 John began studies at the Architectural Association in London. However, he lacked the mathematical ability for this to be a realistic possibility, and then national service intervened. By the time he left the army after two years in postwar Egypt, he had decided to become a professional artist.
After studying with his father at the Sir John Cass College, London, Copnall enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools, then under the architectural artist Sir Henry Rushbury. Here he enjoyed early acclaim and won the Turner gold medal for landscape painting. After his graduation in 1954, he went on a hitchhiking tour of Spain with a friend - and it changed his life. He fell so in love with the country, and felt so at home there that a month-long holiday turned into a 14-year stay. He said of his life in the 1960s: "No Beatles, but plenty of bullfighting, flamenco and Rioja!"
After the failure of his first marriage, to Madeleine Chardon, with whom he had lived on Ibiza, Copnall moved to mainland Spain and, long before the years of tourist development, bought a rundown hacienda in the mountains above Malaga, in the tiny village of Benalmadena. The hacienda was called Retam and he signed his paintings Juan de Retam. Copnall's experience of Spain - the intensity of the light, the saturation of colour, as well as the immensity of the landscapes - all influenced his move from representational art to complete abstraction. Nicolas De Stael was an influence from this period, and Copnall's stylised realism, employing the rich earthy colours he saw around him, was both successful and profitable. Buyers included the Hollywood film star, Melvyn Douglas.
With the end of another relationship, Copnall went back to England in 1968 fearing - probably wrongly - that he was missing out on the British art scene. However, by the time of his return, the art world had moved on from the American abstract expressionism that had so deeply impressed him in the 1950s, before he had gone to Spain. Widely appreciated by many fellow artists, Copnall won the EA Abbey scholarship in 1970 and awards from the Arts Council and the British Council. In 1988 he was elected to the London Group. From 1973 to 1993 he taught painting part-time at the Central School of Art and Design and also at Canterbury College of Art. He was completely committed to his work. "You'll have to realise that my painting will come first," he told one of his - many - girlfriends. (The relationship did not last). Copnall's first solo exhibition was at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1955, but this was followed by many more in Britain as well as in Germany (Cologne, Nuremburg, Stuttgart, Munich), Spain and Finland.
In 1982 Copnall was one of a group of artists who bought the Spratts Dog Food warehouse off the Bow Road, in the East End of London, and converted it into studios. After the end of his second marriage, to Caroline Murray Brown, he lived there permanently.