American Photorealist painter Robert Cottingham (b. 1935) employs hyper-rich color, a photographic framework, and sharp lines and shadows in his depictions of the urban landscape. He is especially inspired by the details of storefront signage and building facades, and each city in which he has resided has been a catalyst for his distinct close-ups. Although many describe him as an American Pop artist, Cottingham is a self-proclaimed Photorealist who imprints onto the canvas a personal interpretation of his photographs. Currently an internationally recognized master of his genre, he began painting in Los Angeles in 1964 when his employer, the advertising agency Young & Rubicam, transferred him to provide some New York experience to the West Coast offices. Cottingham describes this move as an advantageous change, “I was restless. I had maybe two paintings under my belt, and they were small.”
While working for the agency, he rented a small studio on Olympic Boulevard a few blocks east of Western Avenue that was once a shoe repair shop. The Southern California sunlight drenched Los Angeles’ two-story urban sprawl, an unexplored landscape that was foreign to Cottingham. He recalls, “In New York, the buildings would block my subjects. It was like I was working in a canyon. In L.A., I was always sure the sun would get to my subject matter.” Enthralled with the ubiquity of elaborate advertisements, he took snapshots of Los Angeles’s urban scenes and objects – storefronts, busses, neon signs, and theater marquees – and transformed them into paintings. He was also interested in the residential architecture of Hollywood and surrounding neighborhoods, “These houses were so fascinating. So different from what I knew.” Cottingham had three shows from 1968-70 at the Molly Barnes Gallery where he exhibited his eight Hollywood Stills, including House with Awnings (1968), a Sunset Boulevard home saturated in sunlight in front of a cloudless sky. Robert Cottingham continues to paint and exhibit his work, and in addition to numerous solo and group exhibitions and a retrospective at the Long Beach Museum of Art, his paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, and the Hamburg Museum.
– Paul Des Marais, Contributing Writer
A conversation between Peter Loughrey (PL), Richard Dorso (RD), and Bianca Dorso (BD) regarding the Cottingham.
PL: I guess I’ll ask you about the Cottingham a little bit, too, because I want to write something special in the catalogue about (it), do you have any recollections of why you picked that one.
RD: Well, I’ll confess something. I like happy art – and you’ll notice most of the art is happy.
RD: And this house is very happy. The Cottingham – there’s an interesting story about the Cottingham. When he had the show, Long Beach or—
BD: It was Long Beach.
RD: The gallery called and asked for my picture, early in putting it together. And I didn’t want to ruin—I just don’t like when they …. So, he called and said, “Would you do it?” and it was two days before the show. So, I finally consented and Bianca called him and said how much she liked the show. She says she thought my picture was the best in the show and he said it may not be the best but it’s the happiest. The other house pictures were threatening. Barbara Feldon – I took her into Molly Barnes and she got one, and it’s much more sinister. All the house pictures were sinister except this one.
PL: They were sinister because the colors were darker?
RD: Dark, yeah. Blacker. More night. Shadows. They were threatening.
PL: Yeah. Well, this one definitely is very bright and optimistic and—
RD: Happy. That’s why I bought it.
HOUSE WITH AWNINGS
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 59” x 59.5”; Frame: 59.5” x 60”
Literature: Hollywood Stills: House Portraits by Robert Cottingham, Exhibition Catalogue, Long Beach Museum of Art, 1997
Provenance: Molly Barnes Gallery
Literature: Cottingham, Robert. Telephone interview. 20 Aug. 2011.
“Robert Cottingham.” Forum Gallery. Forumgallery.com, 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2011.