Will Cotton takes on Pop Art with an even more Contemporary approach.
As has been noted for years, certain art movements become known for particular motifs, the Pre-Raphaelite’s appreciation for nature being a prime example. While not quite as respected as more traditional art genres, Pop Art also has its own set of themes. The strongest of these elements is a reinterpretation of kitsch, presenting it in an intentionally ironic way, that changes the interpretation to one of irony. The sense being that this is kitsch that knows full well that it is kitsch. The other theme is, of course, consumer culture, particularly high-sugar junk food like in Warhol’s infamous green Coke bottle paintings.
While Pop. Art as a form has declined in popularity in recent years as the culture has veered more towards the ironic, there are some are still attempting to use elements of classic Pop. Art to comment on indulgence culture. The best in recent memory being New York-based painter and sculptor Will Cotton who, with his lush images of literal candy lands makes us think about the more artificial elements of modern society by imposing them with symbolism from the natural world.
Born in Massachusetts around the same time Warhol got going in 1965, Will Cotton began making things at a young age. Deciding he liked creating art enough to try and go pro, he enrolled at the high-flying New York Academy of Art in 1988. It was here that Will Cotton would develop his lush, brightly colored marshmallow textured style. This started out simply, with purely nature based images rendered in paint only in such a way that looks like candy, with no indications of human society.
Sticking with this style for nearly a decade, Will Cotton took another turn in 1996 when buildings began to appear in the natural/unnatural scenes. Most artists would have been happy to simply paint the buildings into the images but Will Cotton wanted there to a rich, tactile feel to them. Even then most people should have incorporated some element of photography but Will Cotton, possessed of ambition contradicting the seemingly frivolous nature of his subjects, started sculpting miniature tableaux’s out of pastry and ice cream and painting photo-realistic renderings of them before they melted, such as in the painting “Happy Place”.
Never one to sit still for long, Will Cotton lasted seven years before changing again, beginning to populate his world of tactile indulgence and fans fun glut with images of nude or partially nude, pin-up style photographs of women. Including some famous image of singer Katy Perry. While this may seem like a cynical appeal to prurient interest, there is a reason behind the seeming exploitation.
Rather than being an application of the fraudulent promises of unattainable pleasures used by commercial advertisers since the 1960s, it is actually meant as an inversion of them. As Cotton has stated “these paintings are all about a very specific place. It is a utopia where a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, meaning ultimately that there can be no desire as there is no desire without lack.”