Nisha Rathode (Editor)

Will Cotton

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
United States

Known for

Will Cotton

Cooper Union

Will Cotton webneelcomdailysitesdefaultfilesimagesdaily

Cotton Candy Katy, Chocolate Bath, Ice Cream Venus

Behind the scenes studio visit with artist will cotton

Will Cotton (born 1965 in Melrose, Massachusetts, U.S.) is an American painter. His work primarily features landscapes composed of sweets, often inhabited by human subjects. Will Cotton lives and works in New York City.


Will Cotton Will Cotton

Will cotton creating new sculptures and prints at pace paper


Will Cotton WM Whitehot magazine of contemporary art February 2011

Cotton's works from the 1990s depicted pop icons sourced from contemporary advertisements such as the Nestlé Quick bunny - directly referencing visual modes aimed at evoking desire. Cotton described his early works in a 2008 interview, saying "My initial impulse to make these paintings really came out of an awareness of the commercial consumer landscape that we live in. Every day we're bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands of messages designed specifically to incite desire within us."

Will Cotton Will Cotton

In 1996, Cotton began to develop an iconography in which the landscape itself became an object of desire. The paintings often feature scenery made up entirely of pastries, candy and melting ice cream. He creates elaborate maquettes of these settings from real baked goods made in his Manhattan studio as a visual source for the final works. Since about 2002, nude or nearly nude pinup-style models have occasionally populated these candy-land scenes. As in the past, the works project a tactile indulgence in fanciful glut. The female characters are icons of indulgence and languor, reflecting the feel of the landscape itself. "These paintings are all about a very specific place," says Cotton, "It's 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."


Will Cotton Miss Moss Will Cotton

Interested in cultural iconography, Cotton's art makes use of the common language of consumer culture shared across geographical boundaries. He considers the visual threads in his work, drawn from imagery ranging from the Candy Land board game and gingerbread houses to pinup art and cotton candy, to be part of the popular culture lexicon. Cotton’s work also builds upon and updates the idea of land of milk and honey in European literature and art. Cotton states “The dream of paradise, of a land of plenty, is a thread that runs through all of human history, not just in the affluent times but in fact very often in the lean as well.” He has also been inspired by painters Frederic Edwin Church, François Boucher and Fragonard, the photographer Carleton Watkins, as well as pin-up painters such as Gil Elvgren. Of his landscape painting influences, Cotton says,

I was initially drawn to the Hudson River School when I learned that many of the paintings were made specifically to incite a feeling of awe and a desire to experience the new frontier. This struck me as a particularly American kind of propagandist message that I wanted to reference in my paintings. I love the idea of showing ... what it might be like to experience such a place. —Will Cotton


Will Cotton has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. He is represented by Mary Boone Gallery, New York; Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, Colorado; Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, France, and Jablonka Galerie, Cologne, Germany. His works have also been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000); the Seattle Art Museum (2002), the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany (2004); the Hudson River Museum (2007); the Triennale di Milano, Italy (2007) the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris (2008) and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana. His work is in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum, Washington and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, as well as many prominent private collections.

In 2004 he received the Princess Grace Foundation award for contemporary art in Monaco. Will Cotton was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the New York Academy of Art (where he is a Senior Critic) in 2012.

Will Cotton Bakery

Cotton installed a pop-up (model) French bakery art installation at Partners & Spade in Manhattan, New York. Confections and baked goods the artist used for visual reference were baked on site and were for sale over three weekends in November 2009. Bakery staff were fitted with custom-made tiaras of the kind Cotton paints atop the heads of many women in his paintings. His idea was to let the public experience the painting process as he does, surrounded by the aroma of freshly baked sweets, adding an aromatic layer of sensation to the experience of viewing the work.

California Gurls music video

Will Cotton was the Artistic Director for Katy Perry's 2010 music video, California Gurls, which was based on themes and imagery from his paintings. Perry approached Cotton with an interest in his work, which subsequently became a central visual reference for the video. Cotton created original props for the set, including a three-dimensional Candy Land game board using real baked goods and sweets. He worked closely with the video’s director, Matthew Cullen of Motion Theory, and creative team from the music production company EMI to recreate life-size scenery from his paintings. Imagery from Cotton's works "Candy Stick Forest" and "Sugar Beach", among several others, were used as inspiration for scenes in the video. Cotton's work Cotton Candy Katy, a painting of Perry reclining amid cotton candy clouds, was also featured as cover art on the California Gurls album, Teenage Dream.

Cockaigne for Performa 11

In his debut performance art work, Cotton employed the forms of both ballet and burlesque to create a celebration of whipped cream and cotton candy. Curated by Stacy Engman as part of Performa 11, Cockaigne was an exploration incorporating music and dance, in addition to scent, as a means of expressing the peculiar nature of two ephemeral confections. The piece began with the "Whipped Cream Dance" as choreographed and performed by Miss Ruby Valentine (a burlesque dancer Cotton has often painted). The movements for this piece came out of the tradition of the erotic fan dance, and were set to music composed by Caleb Burhans and performed live on violin by Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim. An accompanying whipped cream scent, which was dispersed by Hannah Cohen during the dance, was developed in conjunction with senior perfumer Pascal Gaurin, flavorist Marla Wright, and Nicolas Mirzayantz, Group President, Fragrances, of International Flavors & Fragrances.

In part two of Cockaigne, the "Cotton Candy Dance" was performed by three ballerinas, as choreographed by Charles Askegard, to music composed by John Zorn. The dancer’s movements were designed to evoke the airy strands of spinning sugar, becoming clouds of cotton candy. This segment was played live by Keith Cotton on keyboard, with Heung Heung Chin on triangle.

The piece's title is a reference to the Land of Cockaigne, a mythical land of plenty as described in medieval poetry written during a time of famine. The theme has been explored by artists as diverse as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Umberto Eco, and Voltaire. In addition to conceiving of and directing the piece, Will Cotton painted the backdrops and designed the costumes.


Will Cotton Wikipedia