Billy Copley by Mimi Thompson

BOMB 63 Spring 1998
Bombcover 63 1024X1024
63 Billy Copley 2

Billy Copley, Beauty Contest, 1997, mixed media on canvas, 77 × 59 inches. All images courtesy of the artist.

Inside Billy Copley’s subconscious, cartoon characters, declarative statements, and phonetic alphabets battle for attention. Using acrylic paint, watercolor, collage, and rubber stamps, Copley allows his mind to tumble out into a two-dimensional maelstrom. There is a narrative but no sequential structure—the story an emotional and contemporary whirlwind with our commercial world as its domicile.

Images like Fruit Loops and an outline of Barney the Dinosaur’s head float menacingly. Letters forming words (contest, bad, dab) and phrases (no fair, my book of love) pop you in and out of the paintings and elicit all kinds of memory-related emotions. The work delivers a kind of voluptuous angst, similar to reading an overloaded Ralph Bakshi cartoon; while the veneer of jokiness takes you back to adolescence, when you coded information to remove yourself from the power of feeling.

Although many of the paintings are the size of a doorway, the images in the paintings are tiny. Small skeletons and cartoons join cocoons and shapes that look like candied nipples, all floating in what could be a cloud of nerve gas. It’s a world both hellish and funny. And it’s an American vision—appreciating the crackpot and the dumbness in everyday life, while pointing out the shaking earth beneath our feet.

—Mimi Thompson

63 Copley 02

Billy Copley, Tricks for Kids, 1997, mixed media on canvas, 77 × 59 inches.

Joyce Pensato by Marcella Durand
Joyce Pensato 01
Related
Portfolio by Walter Robinson
Walter Robinson Bomb 03

The bed sheet as metaphor for the continuous field of consciousness

Stephin Merritt by Franklin Bruno
Stephin Merritt Bomb 01

The prolific New York lyricist digs into songcraft on the occasion of his new autobiographical album, 50 Song Memoir.

Portfolio by Gabriele Beveridge
Gabriele Beveridge Bomb 1

Gabriele Beveridge has quite the eye for sad-looking models in posters—the kind of women who hawk things like hair dye and shampoo.

Originally published in

BOMB 63, Spring 1998

Featuring interviews with Gillian Wearing, Mona Hatoum, Jim Lewis, Dale Peck, Maureen Howard, John Sayles, Steve Earle, Martin McDonagh, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina.

Read the issue
Bombcover 63 1024X1024