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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will Cotton

Abandoned Churro Cabin, 2002, Will Cotton
What do you do when you just like to draw two themes? Anyone who knows the art or illustration market would say you're limiting yourself too much and you're not going to get a lot of jobs. Or, you can become simply the best in whatever the combination and work it for the rest of your life! There are many such cases of artists who specialize in a single subject and earn their living from it. New York City artist, Will Cotton, falls into this category. Between paintings and illustrations, the guy always illustrates skinny woman in the middle of fat. And it makes for success! He only paints scantily clad models frolicking in sugary treats. Guys, if one doesn't make your mouth water, the other will.
Take two sweets and blend well. The result is a delectable confection--an iconic style and content some artists struggle to discover for decades.
Will Cotton didn't just one day decide to stir together "cotton" candy and naked ladies. Long before he mixed the two he delighted in painting both separately (above). Cotton works from models set up in his studio, which doesn't mean he works strictly from live models. He readily employs every trick and device available to artists today--photography, digital imaging, scale models, and real, edible sweets created in his own bakery. Cotton has even taken cooking classes to better fabricate these painstaking miniature worlds. The use of models (both live and homemade) lends the paintings all sorts of details and lighting effects that would be difficult to achieve from merely fantasizing about the subject. For all of their dreaminess, the painting process is more technical than whimsical. The structural logic of gingerbread, icing, marzipan, and various candies is carefully adhered to.
Not all that Will Cotton "cooks up" in his studio kitchen is edible, but much of it least for a few days.
Although Cotton is a consummate painter, he's at least equally adept as a sculptor, as is every pastry chef. How can a pastry chef be so thin? It would appear he only photographs, draws, and paints his confections, somehow eschewing the temptation to consume them...or even lick the spoon. Will Cotton was born in 1965. He grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, but lives today in New York City where he has recently published a book Painting & Works on Paper. In its 176 pages, between photography and post-production, he evokes a unique insatiable desire for sweetness and sweetness. He focuses on the photo elements ranging from sweets to candy, lollipops, menthol, icing, or ice cream. In his Manhattan studio, Cotton creates works combining iconographic burlesque and pin-ups with rococo references.

To create his permanent confectionary sculptures Cotton includes such tasty ingredients as plaster, polymers, wood, and various color pigments.
Cotton studied at the New York Academy of Art, but received his B.F.A. from the Cooper Union, in 1988. His works from the 1990s depicted pop icons sourced from contemporary advertisements. Cotton described his early works in as an impulse to make paintings out of an awareness of the commercial consumer landscape we live in. He notes that every day we're bombarded with thousands of messages designed specifically to incite desires within us. Then around 1996, Cotton began to develop an iconography in which the landscapes themselves became objects of desire. His paintings often feature scenery made up entirely of pastries, candy and melting ice cream (top). He creates elaborate miniatures of these settings from real baked goods made in his Manhattan studio as a visual source for the final works.

Candy Land, New York Magazine, May, 2013

Since about 2002, nude or nearly-nude pinup-type models have often populated these candy-land scenes. As in the past, the works project a tactile indulgence in fanciful gluttony. The female figures are icons of indulgence and languor, reflecting the feel of the landscape itself. Cotton notes that these paintings are all about a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, meaning ultimately that there can be no desire, as there is no desire without lackings. Cotton's art makes use of the common language of consumer culture.

Cotton's Domino, from 2015, refines the sweetness to it's basic element--sugar--employing photography, superb draftsmanship, computers, and painting.
Visual threads in Cotton's work, are drawn from imaginary worlds as in a sort of Candy Land board game with gingerbread houses, pinup art, and cotton candy, as part of the cultural lexicon. The dream of a land of plenty paradise is also a thread that runs through not just Cotton's work, but all of human history. His work updates the idea of a "land of milk and honey" first mention in the Old Testament Bible, but also in European literature and art.

The Will Cotton cover portrait of a frosted Martha Stewart, 2015.
Will Cotton has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. His works have also been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Seattle Art Museum, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany; the Hudson River Museum; the Triennale di Milano, Italy, the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Havana. His work is in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum, Washington and the Columbus Mu-seum of Art, in Ohio, as well as many prominent private collections, including, one would suppose, that of Martha Stewart (above). Cotton's brush would seem to be something of a fountain of youth. Obviously his most well-known subject is the teen idol, Katy Perry, with whom he has worked as the art director for the video hit California Gurls (bottom), as well as having designed the cover photo on the same album, which is all very sweet.

Will Cotton and his clones at work in his studio.


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