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 Robert Cottingham  (1935 - )

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/New York      Known for: super real facades, mechanisms, letterforms, photography

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Robert Cottingham
from Auction House Records.
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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.

The 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.

For 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 around us.


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.

Highlights 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.

Source:
Forum Gallery
www.tandempress.wisc.edu
www.rogallery.w1.com


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.

The Photo 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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