Whitehot Magazine

February 2011, Will Cotton @ Michael Kohn Gallery

Will Cotton
Michael Kohn Gallery
8071 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90048
January 14 through February 26, 2011

Everyone loves Will Cotton. Even those who consider his classically painted confections as empty calories are still found to admit they are delicious. Is it better or worse to know that he personally makes many of the desserts from which he paints? I think better, it expands the variety of personal expression and sensualism present in the paintings. In any case, Will Cotton exhibitions consistently put one in mind of Sweet Lady Jane’s during wedding season. The addition of ravishingly gorgeous nude or food-clad women to tableaux of landscape and/or costumes wrought of cotton candy, melted ice cream, and pastries galore, only deepens the shades of the paintings’ pleasure; their power of seduction is balanced by the viewer’s intense awareness that they are being tempted to break their diets.

Now about that word, “classically.” The trope of the romantic, flattering court painting is associated with the Renaissance, especially in France and the Netherlands; the ability to replicate that tradition’s mastery of soft halos, the delicate, flower-like beauty of the young women depicted in this genre, and the overall suffusion of light and sheen on the surface of the paintings, are Cotton’s biggest technical gifts. And just when you wrestle with whether it’s too big a stretch to compare the blush cheeks, gently parted lips, and chaste sexiness to that of Ingres, you are prompted to make it by the title of the exhibition’s centerpiece, Ice Cream Venus. Light bounces around inside the pigment, but it fairly dazzles as it glistens across the melting mounds of ice cream from which emerges the goddess. It’s the most perfect painting in the world, at least while you’re standing in front of it.

A fairly new direction in Cotton’s work has been a large number of seated portraits of woman dressed in clothing and tiaras made of cupcakes and assorted treats, striking traditional poses of the debutantes or courtesan, sporting pastry foil like the grandest couture. And at least two of them are the pop icon, Katy Perry, for whom Cotton recently designed a popular album cover and music video. Perry is to music what dessert is to nourishment -- she’s not real food but it’s everyone’s favorite thing to eat when they’re high -- it’s an art unto itself, and a lucrative one at that. These portraits are more graphically simple, more self-consciously evoking the tradition from which they spring. And the best part is, Cotton’s technique holds up. It’s obvious he’s pushing himself on that level, remaking Ingres’ thoughts on the paintbrush and the artist’s caressing gaze, into a finger dipped in a mixing bowl of Buttercream frosting, and ultimately keeping it tasteful.


Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.

She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.


Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff


Follow Whitehot on Instagram 


view all articles from this author