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(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)October 17, 2003

(Mahwah) – Counterparts: The Self-Portraiture of Joan Semmel and John Coplans, an exhibit demonstrating the artists’ similar strategies of self-representation, opens in the Kresge Gallery at Ramapo College of New Jersey on November 12 and continues through December 18. Semmel will present a slide lecture on Wednesday, November 12 at 4 p.m., followed by an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. and a talk by the exhibit’s curator, Sandra Firmin, at 6 p.m. in the gallery.

Coplans’ black and white photographs of the last decade are of his aging physique and Semmel’s larger-than-life size paintings depict a youthful body. Semmel’s paintings were made in the 1970s during the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Firmin, curator of the exhibit and associate curator of the University at Buffalo Art Gallery, says, Their work shares similar strategies of presentation. They both work with the camera, although Semmel uses snapshots to sketch her compositions before painting them. They both exclude the head and deal with their bodies without idealizing them.”

Both artists started as abstract expressionist painters in the 1950s, Coplans in London and Semmel in New York. They later renounced this style in favor of figuration, creating, says Firmin, powerful topographies of the flesh. Even so, they continued to be influenced by their original training, composing in terms of immense scale and heightening the tension between three-dimensional form and flat, geometric abstraction.”

Semmel was involved in the 1970s feminist movement and Coplans, in turn, was influenced by feminist artists and their forthright treatment of sexuality and the female body. By showing Semmel’s paintings in tandem with Coplans’ photographs,” explains Firmin, we can understand, by contrast, how naturally women appear to inhabit their bodies while men remain distanced. Despite their radical perspective and bold subject matter, Semmel’s paintings easily depict the wonderment of budding sexuality. Semmel’s images are sensuous and overtly erotic while Coplans’ are often awkward and, at times, border on the grotesque.”

Semmel has exhibited nationally and internationally, and has had solo shows at the Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York (1998) and the Jersey City Museum, New Jersey (1999). She held a full professorship at Rutgers University in the Mason Gross School of the Arts from 1978 to 2000. She was twice awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Grant.

Working as a painter in London during the 1950s, Coplans, like Semmel, was heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionists. When he moved to San Francisco in 1960, he ceased painting and embarked on a 20-year-career that included critic, curator and museum director as well as a founding editor of Artforum (1962). In 1980, he began experimenting with the camera and self-portraiture. His photographs have been featured in solo and group exhibitions, including retrospectives at P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center, Long Island City, New York (1997) and Lilijevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm (2000). The artist died earlier this year.

This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Kresge Gallery is located in the Berrie Center for the Performing and Visual Arts at Ramapo College. Gallery hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. and Wednesday, 1 to 7 p.m. For more information, please call Director of Galleries Sydney Jenkins, (201) 684-7174.


Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The College is ranked #1 among New Jersey public institutions by College Choice, has been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and is recognized as a top college by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review and Money magazine, among others. Ramapo College is also distinguished as a Career Development College of Distinction by, boasts the best campus housing in New Jersey on, and is designated a “Military Friendly College” in Victoria Media’s Guide to Military Friendly Schools.

Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a post-master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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