William N. Copley's art is based on the traditions of Dada and Surrealism as well as American Pop Art. Copley studied at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, from 1932 to 1936 and at Yale University from 1936 to 1938. After returning from war in 1947, Copley opened his own gallery in Los Angeles at the age of twenty eight. He managed to attract the main protagonists of Surrealism to his exhibitions, including the European artists René Magritte, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta and the Americans Joseph Cornell and Man Ray.
William Copley did not begin painting himself until the late 1940s. In 1951 he went to Paris with Man Ray, where he lived in Surrealist circles for around thirteen years. During these years, the artist painted numerous humorous and ironic pictures dealing with the Surrealist traditions. His return to New York in 1961 also brought about a change in his work.
In the mid-1960s William Copley increasingly depicted everyday American myths such as the Western Saloon or Cowboys. He also began painting trivial motifs, such as pin-up girls, which he combined with symbols of the state, such as flags, to create a subtle irony.
In 1980 Copley moved to Roxbury, Connecticut, followed by a further move to Key West, Florida, in 1992.
William Copley is regarded as a late Surrealist and precursor of Pop Art. His work was widely recognised even during his life-time. His first solo exhibition took place in Los Angeles in 1951, followed by further exhibitions in New York, Paris, Milan, Venice and London. In 1961 the Amsterdam "Stedelijk Museum" bought the first Copley painting for a public collection. In 1968 an exhibition at the Berlin "Galerie Springer" made him known in Germany. The extent of his recognition in Germany was reflected by invitations to "documenta 5" and "7" in 1972 and 1982.
In 1980 a traveling exhibition visiting Berne, Paris, Amsterdam and Karlsrughe was very successful. Most recently, his works have been shown in solo exhibitions at the "Kestner Gesellschaft" in Hanover (1995), at the "Galerie Fred Jahn" in Munich (1996-1997 and at the "Ulmer Museum" in 1997.