LAKE BALBOA >> Burton Kopelow survived being shot during World War II, a heart attack about 25 years ago and a major stroke early this century.
Now the self-taught artist, who turns 90 in April, is having his first show ever at the prestigious LA Artcore gallery at the Brewery Annex downtown starting Sunday. The gallery, founded by Cal State Los Angeles educator Lydia Takeshita, will showcase scores of Kopelow's striking and distinctive abstract paintings dating back to the 1970s. And they are but a fraction of the more than 2,000 pieces in his overall catalog.
“It's a one-man show, which is incredible because from New York to San Francisco to L.A., I have been in and out of museums and galleries and turned down from the Guggenheim to the Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney (Museum of American Art),” the Brooklyn native said from the converted studio of his Lake Balboa home. “I had submitted work but no one ever picked up on it so this lady (Takeshita) is actually my savior. She liked the work right away.”
Takeshita, who is also the gallery's director, was struck by the fact that Kopelow has been painting for many years but had never had a show, particularly since his work is “excellent” and very appealing aesthetically.
“He's just a good painter; a natural,” said Takeshita, 87.
LA Artcore is thrilled to give deserving, little-known artists like Kopelow a break, said Robert Seitz, who also works at the 35-year-old gallery that's nestled in the Los Angeles Brewery artist colony.
“It's like a lost vault or buried treasure in the sea when something like this pops up,” Seitz said, “and someone has worked so hard for so long ... with tons of exceptional work.”
Kopelow never took an art class but read extensively on the philosophical traditions of alchemy and theosophy — a spiritual philosophy — that would influence his work. He was also greatly affected by Carl Jung and got caught up in the idea of “self-realization” and centering oneself, he said.
After decades of painting, he codified his artistic vision in the mid-70s and called it “Chromorphism,” which encompasses 29 large canvases — 10 of which will be hung at the LA Artcore show. He once described it this way:
“What may seem to be at first irrational is a dimension of my consciousness-expanding awareness resulting in visions that turn on color and form. These paintings incorporate changes so intimate that they achieve consistency.”
In the art world, it would be considered classic 1980s hard-edge painting because every color is very clearly defined in a solid line, Seitz said. It's a takeoff or continuation of modernism, Futurism and Cubism, he said, and at one time such paintings looked very futuristic.
Kopelow is “totally dedicated” to two things in his life: his painting and his wife of 16 years, Nancy Blumstein, said friend and artist Jon Peterson, 68, of Pasadena. Peterson, who was the one who introduced his friend to Takeshita last year, met Kopelow when the latter moved into an artists loft building Peterson owned in downtown Los Angeles in the late 80s.
“He's like a painter's painter I would say because he just paints and really doesn't worry about his career,” Peterson said. “He's one of these guys who has to paint every day and it wouldn't matter where he is and what he's doing.”
In his colorful life, Kopelow has married five times, lived in Mexico City and the state of Oaxaca for years without speaking any Spanish and pulled through a burglary of his San Francisco studio decades ago. While he often uses a wheelchair and has lost some mobility due to his war injuries and his stroke, he's proud of how he's developed as an artist and looks forward to many more years of painting.
“I'm going to keep going until I'm at least 125,” said Kopelow, who also does figurative paintings. “Besides that, I've never felt old. It's never in my consciousness so I hope I remain that way right to the end.”
The art show will run from Sunday through Feb. 27 at the LA Artcore Brewery Annex, 650A South Avenue 21, Los Angeles. An opening reception will be held Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m., with the artist speaking at 2 p.m. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
To visit Kopelow's works, visit www.burtonkopelow.carbonmade.com.