After waiting a lifetime, an artist, 89, has his first show

Written by
Artist Burton Kopelow

This Sunday at the Brewery in downtown Los Angeles, artist Burton Kopelow debuts his work publicly for the first time–after a lifetime of painting. Kopelow, who turns 90 in April and lives in Lake Balboa, has been working on his craft since the 1940’s, creating 2,000 canvases. Today, despite physical disabilities, he continues to paint daily.

In advance of the opening of the show, which features 100 paintings, I asked the Brooklyn-born Mr. Kopelow (an early pioneer in the LA loft scene) a bit about this momentous occasion, and what’s influenced the mystical undercurrents of his work.

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KCRW: After years of painting, why wait to have a show now?

BURTON KOPELOW: Because they never gave me a chance. Over the last 35 years or so I’ve taken my work to galleries and museums in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And Lydia (Takeshita, the gallery director at L.A. Artcore) is the first one to give me a show. She saw my work and right away she wanted to give me a show.

KCRW: And what have you done with all this work all this time?  Stored it, given it away, sold it?

BK: We have a four car garage with no cars in it. And I built racks. I’m very famous for my racks.

KCRW: You painted in a storefront on Fairfax Avenue during the sixties, a ripe period in LA art history. How did that influence your art?

BK: Although during that time I spent a lot of time with friends talking about art and exploring my ideas. I don’t think I was very much influenced by the art scene at the time because I didn’t hang out with influential people. I did meet a few of them and even chatted with them, but only really in passing.

KCRW: You were  a pioneer in downtown LA, living there back when it was still industrial. What do you think of what has happened to the neighborhood?

BK: It’s become really yuppified. We had to move because the rents got too high.

KCRW: You served in the Army during WWII and earned a Purple Heart. Did your military service influence your path in life, and/or your painting?

BK: Not at all.

KCRW: You describe what you call your Chromorphism series as your “system of painting infinite relationships that become a union of illusionary irregularity.” You say the pieces are large.  How large?

BK: Most are 81″ x 81″. The largest two are 96″ x 96″ and 81″ x 116″

KCRW: You grew up in Brooklyn. Which NYC area museum was your favorite as a kid?

BK: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, because of the great collections, especially the Early Renaissance, also the Egyptian and a lot of other stuff. It’s endless, but those are the two most important.

KCRW: What’s different about painting now, as opposed to when you started?

BK: I’m a self  taught artist, so I’ve had to learn and develop everything on my own. I always read a lot and was heavily influenced by Theosophy and Jung. And my first really serious work was about putting those ideas on canvas. I’m always working, so I’m always learning about technique, my art and my vision. That’s why I keep painting. There’s still more to know.

Selected Works of Burton Kopelow on display this Sunday through Feb. 27th at the LA Artcore Brewery Annex 650A South Avenue 21  Thur – Sun, 12 – 5 pm