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Music and visual artists have a way of becoming co-conspirators. For a moment we’ll forget artists who came up primarily as album cover designers and focus on those that worked independent of the industry and somehow found themselves inside it. Think of the Very Special Christmas music compilations and you’ll likely see Keith Haring’s dancing outline figurines. Your mind’s eye thinks of Madonna and probably will do so based on an image photographed by Herb Ritts. Duran Duran had Patrick Nagel, and what of The Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol and a banana?
Into this world comes Will Cotton, whose photos and paintings detail a landscape of whipped-peak meringue, cotton candy cloudy skies and rivers of oozing chocolate. He also adds in the occasional woman with greater or lesser degrees of clothing, but it is never a blatant stab at sex he attempts. Instead, his figures flirt with the coquettish charms of 1930s and 1940s pin-ups and, in most respects, are represented demurely, even with the stray nipple showing here and there.
Pop star Katy Perry is his most prominent commission so far, and a natural one at that. She had already shown the twin attributes of outrageousness and affinity for those pin-up styles, so Cotton’s designs for her Teenage Dream CD were meant for each other.
It has been said that in a psychological sense, Cotton’s work is extremely sexual, that the combination of the forthright woman and the sugary treats as scenario both reflect urges, desire for things perhaps best left unattainable, satisfying in the immediate but ultimately not very good for you. More pointedly, some have just put it down to some kink that Cotton likes to fetishize. I suppose you could look at it that way, but upon seeing the plates in the book Will Cotton: Paintings and Works on Paper (Rizzoli) the assessment still seems unfair. To me, Cotton goes out of his way to keep his fantasies, dare I say it, wholesome. His compositions hearken back to those early-to-mid 20th century glamour pictures, not so much those of more recent pin-up artists like Olivia DeBerardinis who, even at her most elegant, still presents sexuality front-and-center.
In both cases though it can still be taken that these have artistic merit, one appeals to a more mature demographic, that’s all. It all leads me to think of another recent sex symbol icon aside from Cotton’s muse Perry; an unfortunate one at that, which causes me to feel great sadness.
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