John Coplans,Self Portrait (Torso, Front), 1984


John Coplans, Self Portrait (Torso, Front), 1984


This is a black and white photograph of the artist’s chest and stomach. The image is tightly cropped, severing head, neck and arms at the top of the chest, and genitals and legs at the groin. At either side, a narrow sliver of white background is included, revealing the contours of the artist’s torso. His arms are raised. Black hairs curl over his chest and stomach, framing his nipples and blending with white hairs on his chest and at the base of his neck. At the centre of his stomach, above his navel, wrinkles and pores are sharply defined. Dark shadows around the sides of the artist’s belly evoke the contours of a natural landscape. The large scale to which it is magnified reinforces this effect. Hairs growing in areas which are in focus have the appearance of thick, black wires. Out of focus, they have the quality of a charcoal drawing. The raised edge of a scar, possibly the result of an appendectomy, is visible just under the artist’s stomach on the left side. Coplans’ pose and the way he has framed his body transforms a familiar and even banal object into a strange and possibly sinister image. A slab of dark-textured flesh, his torso also evokes a crudely-rendered face: his nipples and the dark hair framing them may be read as eyes and his creased belly button a downward curving mouth. Viewed in this way, the Self Portrait recalls a painting by Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte (1898-1967), The Rape (Le Viol) 1934, in which a naked female torso is substituted for a woman’s face.

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