On visiting Will Cotton’s studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, you can never predict what you’ll find. This is, after all, the artist who painted Katy Perry floating on a cotton-candy cloud. When I stopped by earlier this spring, he was at work on, among other things, a painting that takes inspiration from Modern Times, a short-lived, mid-19th-century utopian community on Long Island.
Cotton’s also been doing a lot of printmaking. His current obsession with lithography began in early 2010, when Jacob Lewis, then a director at New York’s Pace Prints gallery, dropped off some litho stones and plates at his studio. “He said,” Cotton recalled, “‘You don’t have to draw on them, but just try it out, see if you like it.’” Cotton hadn’t done lithography since his art-school days at Cooper Union, and when he tried it again, he found he liked it. “I realized that instead of being imitative of painting or drawing,” he said, “it is its own thing; it is just this absolutely gorgeous, wonderful work. And drawing on the stones—it’s the best surface.” Cotton went on to do several exhibitions with Pace Prints.
More recently, Cotton was approached by Theo Lotz at Flying Horse Editions in Orlando, Florida, which runs a residency program for artists. Cotton had been wanting to work on a larger scale, and when he found out that Flying Horse had a giant litho stone, he decided to make the trip down there. Flying Horse set him up with a master printer, Phil Sanders, who had worked extensively with the stone. Cotton marveled that more artists don’t want to work in the medium. “Just drawing on litho stones is kind of a dying art,” he told me in his studio.
This kind of dedication to the medium made Cotton the perfect artist for the cover of ARTnews’s Summer 2015 issue, the 25th anniversary of our authoritative “200 Top Collectors” feature. At Flying Horse, Cotton created an original lithograph for the issue, and it presented some intriguing challenges. “I’ve always been fascinated by the mixture of image and type,” he said. His most famous printmaking idols, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret, and Jules-Alexandre Grün, were, of course, well versed in such work.
“I’ve tried to find a way to do that in my paintings and even in the lithos, and I haven’t been able to make it make sense. This was my first opportunity to be able to combine image and text in a way that they are brush-painted on.”
Depicted on the cover of ARTnews is singer and frequent Cotton model Hannah Cohen, whose new album, “Pleasure Boy,” features Cotton’s photograph of the singer with his very realistic cake sculptures. For our cover, Cotton wanted Cohen gazing downward—an unconventional look. “If you look at any fashion magazine, the person on the cover is always looking at you. I wanted to intentionally avoid the fashion-magazine paradigm.”
We think it makes for a terrific entry point into this month’s features, which include Bob Nickas’s investigation into museum holdings of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, and Hilarie M. Sheets’s look at Jerusalem’s Season of Culture in times of turmoil (both to be published later this summer). And, of course, the Top 200.
SARAH DOUGLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF