Thursday, December 30, 2010

Will Cotton vs. Jenny Saville

Will Cotton (Image Above), Jenny Saville, (Image Below)

I've been wanting to write a post for a while about Will Cotton. He's pretty big in the media eye as of late, since he was the artistic director for Katy Perry's music video "California Gurls".

And I think this may make him sort of a sell-out in a lot of artists minds, but whatever.

I'm very intrigued by this artist. He has a great talk done by the Federation of Artists from a few years back describing everything from his working methods, his palette, and most obviously his concept.

As a modern day figurative painter, I seem to have a hard time not putting myself in two categories: Either you paint pretty women, as the history of Western Painting up until WWI did, OR you paint the gritty side of our world (hence the image of Jenny Saville above). If you paint pretty women today, one could easily argue that this beauty is trite, unfitted to todays world, or even, at very best, a spread from a glossy magazine. And if you paint pretty nudes, even worse. You are just adding to the long lineage of how the world sees women... delicate, decorative.
If you paint the grit and ugliness that is very present today, and which, to my relief, we are very much ALLOWED to paint, well, you paint ugliness. It took a lot of hard work, I think, to get away from EVERYTHING being pretty in the 1900s. Ms. Saville's paintings are NOT beautiful, in many ways, but are a means to show something completely different, another side of humanity, however much we may want to look away.

I know I'm making a big ol' box for figurative painters, but hear me out.

A little over a month ago, I participated in a show called "Women Painting Women". It was rooted from a blog by Sadie Valerie after she had gone to see a show entitled "Women in Art" a few years back. She was shocked, rightfully so, that there were no female painters represented in the show, only images of women painted by male painters. Hence she began her blog about how women have a different viewpoint on their fellow women, and hence, the show at Robert Lange Studio came to be.

So what do Women Painting Women, Will Cotton, Jenny Saville, and the struggles of Ugly versus Pretty Art have in common?


I submit for discussion evidence A:

So here's Will Cotton: normal guy of today, well-educated, and a seriously good craftsman of his metier. At this point, if you don't know his work, you should look at his website to make some sense of what I'm going to write. He paints women in these huge canvasses, covered (partially) in everything from melting ice cream to cotton candy. I know a lot of women who have issues with this guy, but hear me out. He is, very obviously, going for a statement about gluttony and extravagance. Insatiability. Absolute decadence. And, smartly, he very often shows that decadence in an easy-access, somewhat cheap sort of way. A nude. Candy. Chocolate. Fluff. Interestingly, he also paints quite a lot of paintings that show these still lifes that he has created as maquettes eroding. Decomposing sweets.
Will cotton has found a way to go SO over the top with beauty and sweetness, that not only do we like to look at his paintings (aesthetic: check), but he has a pretty bold, modern, real statement within them (modern content: check).


And what does that have to do with women? Well, as a female painter, while I was on my trip in SC with 11 other female artists, I found myself pretty torn up. On one hand, I like to look at beauty. I like female nudes. I like the paintings men have created for us in history. But the other side of me also wants nothing more than to stay away from trite-ness. I don't think beauty is trite by any means, but I do think it can fall into a place of emptiness. Plus, beauty, as far as I have come into contact with it, usually has a component of surprise, chaos, and even sometimes darkness. NOT all dark, mind you... that can get twisted easily.

So as a female figurative painter, who struggles with going back and forth from beauty to reality, I give props to Mr. Cotton. A lot of my artist friends might be pretty pissed I say this. But he found a way to say something that is going on, without having to scream it. I look forward to seeing these bigger-than-life canvasses some day.

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