Monday, January 2, 2012

Will Cotton: Sweets Painter

A representational artist who has been getting attention of late is Will Cotton (b. 1965). For instance, Rizzoli released this book dealing with his art in November, and his cover painting for a Katy Perry album prompted this Artinfo piece.

Why the fuss? Take a look:


Cotton Candy Katy - 2010
The original painting measures 72 by 84 inches; that is, 6 by 7 feet or 183 by 213 cm. The image above has been cropped at the top (it was painted for the cover of the CD album mentioned above, and album art requires a nearly square format).

Photo of Will Cotton's studio
Note the size of the work in progress.

Will Cotton and Katy Perry
Behind is a painting of her titled "Cupcake Katy."

Chocolate Forest - 2001

Nude in chocolate landscape

Taffy Forest - 2007

Ice Cream Venus - 2010

Ice Cream study

As you might have noticed, Cotton's theme is candy in various guises. Some paintings feature nothing but close images of solid or flowing chocolate. And because Cotton wants everything to look really real, he builds landscape maquettes using the real thing. This led him to become a serious maker of chocolates, now a sort of side job.

Another impression from the images is that his work seems photographic, even though it's actually oil paint on linen canvas. This effect is partly achieved because Cotton paints on huge canvasses, this giving him room to deal with details in a smooth, not-so-painterly way.

Speaking of photography, whereas he does use reference photos, Cotton is quite able to draw very well on his own, as the final image above indicates.

Not everyone cares for hyper-realistic beautiful women in candy environments. Leah Ollman's piece in the Los Angeles Times, "Art review: Will Cotton at Michael Kohn Gallery" (link here) contains the following:

Cotton’s name is often uttered in the same breath as Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin, painters who also emerged in the '90s with work that flaunted its political incorrectness in regard to the female nude. Yuskavage and Currin undermine erotic conventions in their own idiosyncratic ways, while Cotton merely plays into them in a manner that’s more pedestrian than provocative. In a catalogue essay for Cotton’s previous show here, in 2005, art historian Robert Rosenblum posits that the opposing poles of avant-garde and kitsch (famously articulated by Clement Greenberg) merge in these saccharine visions, but to me, the paintings look only backward, not forward. Cheesecake has been replaced by cupcakes, as per the gastronomic trend, and the subjects’ girly, cutesy sex appeal now disingenuously credits itself as post-feminist. None of Cotton’s choices speaks of subversion or criticality, and his rococo froth is only minimally clever. Exhausting familiar sexist correspondences between women and fantasy, desire, indulgence and consumption, the work exploits a single gimmick to the point of sugar shock.

So she states that some people link Cotton to Yuskavage (crude autoerotic images of women) and Currin (gross, cartoon-like exaggerations of female anatomy); I see no connection at all. As for Ollman, just why must (by implication) art be tied to "subversion or criticality" to be considered worthwhile? To me, this attitude, along with slavery to political correctness and other foibles, is a major defect in the mindset of postmodernist art.

Yes, Cotton's paintings lack "serious" themes and psychological "depth." But they're extremely well crafted and fun to look at (for some of us, anyway). That said, I hope that Cotton has a few paintings hidden away in the storage area of his studio that place those gorgeous gals (and other figures) in real world settings as a test of his skills.

Another thought: Those 19th century paintings of odalisques and harem scenes were, in their way, as fantastical as Cotton's candy-related settings. In all cases, the artist was seeking an excuse to show off his skills for depicting female beauty. So Cotton can be seen as following in a time-honored fine-arts tradition.


Anonymous said...

Pettinger wrote the word 'gals'; political correctness or not, that term dates his ideology as well as shows the usual trite masculinist dismissal of women's relevance. The reason we should want criticality in painting is that it moves the game into the big leagues; we have enough Mel Ramos's and need the painter to show they have a reflective consciousness of their position within the tradition. At this point, Cotton is a facile illustrator of academia with he same old sexism. At a time when women's reproductive rights are being assaulted by right wingers these works land in out of touch limbo.

Anonymous said...

I agree; gals is offensive. Broads is much better.