10.29.2011

Smutty Sweets—Will Cotton's Paintings

I've read Will Cotton say in a few interviews that he paints landscapes that just happen to be composed of whipped cream, cotton candy, soda, cake, and icing. He claims to feel more akin to the Hudson River School of landscape painters than to someone like Wayne Thiebaud. Now, I get it, but before reading those interviews, I saw in Cotton's paintings pretty  much the same thing I see in Emily Eveleth's gigantic, slouching donuts: big, soft bodies, oozing, sensual, id-drenched. Well, truthfully, that's still what I see.

Sometimes Cotton puts actual bodies in his work, though if I had to hang one of these paintings on my living room wall (had to?—I'd kill to, or maybe not kill but lightly maim) I'd prefer one of the obscene smears, muddy pools, or messy  piles of soft, sweet matter that imply whole bodies, but hide them from view. The sly ambiguity of a painting like Root Beer Swamp is, to my  mind, so much  funnier and  more mysterious than the fairly clear and unsurprising, though gorgeously executed, goings on in paintings like Frosted or Appenine.

But the most deeply engaging element of Cotton's work is, I think, how he treats time. The bubbles in Root Beer Swamp are on the verge of popping and the custard-slick landslide of Creamy Dream is about to give way again. It's this tension between what is and what is about to be (or, in the post-orgasmic scenarios of paintings like Frosted or Appenine, between what is and what just was) that transcends the surface simplicity of Cotton's sugary subject matter and delivers some serious meat and potatoes of artistic significance.

Root Beer Swamp (2002)
Chocolate Wave (2002)
Frosted (2002)

Summit (2002)
Custard Cascade (2001)
Creamy Dream (200)
Fog (2008)
AppeninPPENINE (2009)
Candy Curls (2005)
Will Cotton's website is here. An interesting interview is here.

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