1935 (Brooklyn, New York)
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super real facades, mechanisms, letterforms, photography
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Robert Cottingham lives and works on an eighteenth century New
England farm, but the subject matter he paints is strictly urban.
Tattoo parlors, seamy bar fronts, five-and-dime stores, trashy movie
marquees, or the advertising on a pancake house are all the urban
symbols he utilizes to construct his complex paintings. He ferrets out
the architectural details, symbols, and letter fragments of facades
from the 1940s and '50s, giving us a glimpse of a true American folk
art; garish, trite, yet somehow endearing.|
Cottingham finds more
than just the materials of a sign fascinating. "Commercial signs are
amazing" he says. "Here are these elaborate, monumental structures
designed solely to tell you that this is where you can buy a hamburger
or a pack of cigarettes. You can see these signs as hilarious or
pathetic. All that effort, all the pomposity just to sell you something
and yet they are an heroic attempt by someone to leave his mark."
Cottingham does not paint signs just to document them. He feels that
job is best left to a photographer. "As an artist, I use the
configurations of a sign as the basis for constructing a painting. They
are my excuse to make a painting. The end result for me is a composite
of line, form, and color that also happens to depict a sign. If the
final work can be read on both levels as a formal painting, taut and
succinct, and at the same time as a depiction of a sign, I feel the
work approaches success.." Robert Cottingham deals with the city, and
his subjects are the signs and storefronts themselves. His works are a
celebration of signs as elements of persuasion, which often border on
satire, or hyperbole, and have a bravado and charm that link the urban
scene and man directly. His art is concerned with the vitality and
variety of contemporary American life without reference to the
nostalgia of a bygone era.
Cottingham is generally referred to
as a "photorealist." The term, in use for about thirty years, refers to
work that has a clarity and "truth-to-the-eye" that is associated with
photography. It is misleading to think that photorealism is an attempt
to replicate photography in paint. Nor is it accurate to assume that
the success of a work relies on a technique that is dependent upon the
projection of a photograph or transparency onto canvas or paper.
role of photography and the process that leads to the final, large
painting was detailed by the artist in a statement written in 1982. He
begins by filming streets in various cities, using both 35 mm and 2 1/4
inch transparency film. After selecting an image that interests him,
the next step is a series of pencil drawings of the entire vista of the
street scene. In these works he separates "the essential from the
extraneous" and analyses compositional possibilities and the
relationships of light and dark values
In the third step, which
may overlap the first, Cottingham makes ink, acrylic, watercolor and
gouache drawings. In the ink drawings he investigates the abstract
patterns within the composition. In this process, Cottingham frequently
abandons the literal rendering of texture, creating through shading and
loose brushstroke works with a lyrical quality distinct from the
precision of the painting.
If he is pleased with the results of
these studies, and the work appears suitable for an increase in scale,
Cottingham lays out a grid on a wall to visualize its effectiveness.
This is an important step since the scale involves judgments in the
success of enlarging various images, and on the relationship of the
final painting's size to human scale.
With respect to content,
Cottingham strives to create work that has an inherent drama and humor,
a straightforward message about the city and commerce, and a strong
sense of American language.
Cottingham's intent is to involve
the viewer directly. In earlier paintings from the 1970s, he used a
square format for the final painting and the related works. The
perspective was often that of the viewer looking up as from a sidewalk.
Because the signs in the paintings were elevated for more effective
distance viewing, the viewer became a detached, casual observer.
Cottingham signs are communication. They are objects rich in language,
ideas and ingenuity. In the context of storefronts, the images become
metaphors for the activities and choices in our daily lives. Through
his works we see a reflection of ourselves and the world we have built
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Robert Cottingham is an American Pop-artist and a first generation
photo realist. He established himself in the early 1970's among such
renowned artists as Richard Estes and Chuck Close. Born in Brooklyn in
1935, he studied at the Pratt Institute, began a brief career in
Graphic Design, which later inspired him with his painting of American
urban signage. |
He uses his camera as a sketchbook and for him
printmaking is "a great aid in painting because it continually gives
him new insights into technique." Over the years he has tended to work
in series: buildings, signs, words, numbers, letters, railroad imagery,
and most recently, typewriters.
His work focuses on Americana.
For example, many of his paintings and prints depict the architecture
and commercial signage of downtown America in the forties and fifties
that have now all but disappeared.
Robert Cottingham is of a
generation of new 20th-century painters, who in finding themselves
confronted with the 19th century rival of painting, photography,
successfully assimilated photography into their work. This movement in
art became known as Photo Realism. It developed quietly during the
early 1960's and emerged as the predominant style in the 'Documenta 5'
1972 in Kassel, Germany, an international exhibition that is one of the
most important in the world. Malcom Morley, Robert Cottingham, Robert
Bechtle, John Clemente Clark, Richard McClean, Ralph Goings and John
Kacere are among the luminaries of this international style. The
majority of the artists, as one might expect, are American.
of Robert Cottingham's international public collections include The Art
Council of Great Britain in London, The Art Institute of Chicago in IL,
The Baltimore Museum of Art in MD, The Birmingham Museum of Art in AL,
The Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA, The Cincinnati Art Museum and
the Cleveland Museum of Art in OH, The Delaware Art Museum, The Solomon
R. Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York, NY, The High Museum of Art in
Atlanta, GA, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington,
DC, The Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga, TN, the La Jolla Museum of
Contemporary Art in CA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum
of Modern Art in New York, NY, The Tampa Museum of Art in FL, The Tate
Gallery in London, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Yale
University Art Gallery in New Haven, CT.
|Biography from RoGallery.com:|
|Robert Cottingham is of a generation of 20th century painters, who in
finding themselves confronted with the 19th-century rival of painting,
photography, successfully assimulated photography into their
work. This movement in art became known as Photo Realism.
It developed quietly during the early 1960's and emerged as the
predominant style in the 'Documenta 5' 1972 in Kassel, Germany, an
international exhibition that is one of the most important in the
world. Malcom Morley, Robert Cottingham, Robert Bechtle, John
Clemente Clark, Richard McClean, Ralph Goings and John Kacere are among
the luminaries of this international style. The majority of the
artists, as one might expect, are American.|
Cottingham, as most
photo realists, uses the photograph as a sketch book of his visual
imagery. The 'Documenta 5' in Kassel appropriately call the show
of photo-realism 'questioning reality'. This sums up the attitude
and questions that have arisen out of Photo Realism.
Realist posture towards photography is usually neutral. However,
Cottingham's adds his very personal framed views of the New York City
he grew up in and turns his visual reporting to re-code them into a
visual language where letters, words and scraps of images penetrate
beyond the eyes of the viewer and lodge in the mind and heart.
Cottingham is fascinated by the power of various combinations of
lettering that appear as advertisements on the streets of our
community. These familar and seemingly ordinary symbols epitomize the
brash, bold American way of life and free enterprise. Cottingham
successfully employes compositional devices that add interest to his
urban images. His concerm for formalist abstraction encourages the
viewer to focus on the play of light and the passage of time through
his work as he records a sympathetic detachment to the phenomon of the
20th century urban landscape.
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