Will Cotton’s résumé ranges from directing a cupcake bra-clad Katy Perry in her 2010 video for “California Gurls” to getting Vogue editors and actresses to guest model for his annual autumnal drawing parties. To keep it short (and sweet), he straddles the world of serious fine art with pop-culture accessibility with a unique taste.
Cotton’s love of using sweets in his work, often commentary on pleasure and temptation, has made him sought out by the likes of Martha Stewart and Ladurée. On April 3, Cotton will be honored at the 22nd annual New York Academy of Art Tribeca Ball. He counts Brooke Shields and Naomi Watts as collectors, and both actresses will serve as co-chairs.
WWD talked exclusively with the artist ahead of Monday’s affair.
WWD: What projects are you working on right now?
Will Cotton: I have a show coming up at Mary Boone in September, so I’m doing a lot of painting for that right now. And I’m making costumes, which I have been working on for the past couple of years, and those are figuring in a big way into the new paintings. The pictures are mostly just people wearing these costumes that I’ve made, and then they’re posing for me and I’m painting them like that, in costume.
WWD: What are the costumes for?
W.C.: It’s just part of this whole thing I’ve been thinking about for a long time, which is kind of posing the question of what it would be like if you were in a place that was all focused on sweets. You know, the metaphor for pleasure and desire, temptation; so the costumes I’ve been making are made of the materials that are related to that thought such as candy bar wrappers. I did a dress made of Domino sugar bags. I made this bodice top with lots of lollipops and gumdrops as decoration.
WWD: Aside from the clothes what else is in the works?
W.C.: I’m working on a new painting right now of this girl I met named Selah Marley and she happens to be from kind of a musical family: Lauryn Hill is her mom, and her dad is one of the Marley kids. I went to this dinner and was seated next to her, and not knowing who she was or anything about what she actually does, I just thought that she’s got a look that I want for these dresses that I’m working on. I [asked] her to come into the studio and look at the dresses I’d been making and choose for herself what she thought would be an interesting way to wear them.
WWD: Have you done a lot of work like that where you meet someone out, and then they come to influence a painting?
W.C.: Yeah it’s happened, for sure. One of the girls I’ve painted more than anybody is this girl named Hannah Cohen, who is a singer too, not super well-known. I was at this party and at that time I mean, we’re talking like 10 years ago now, I was kind of shy about asking people to pose, and so I kind of got some courage and said, ‘You know, I’m about to make this painting and my vision for it is that I want the subject to be sitting in this ice cream waterfall — would you be interested in doing that?’ And she was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ The next day she was sitting in ice cream.
WWD: When you meet someone like that, what is it about them that stands out to you as someone you’d be interested in working with?
W.C.: It’s a funny thing. It’s very specific. I can go to parties all the time and not see people I want to work with, but then sometimes I do, and the way I try to describe it is that I like to refer to art history a lot in my paintings, and there are some people who just have a face that feels like art historical. Like they could be in a Tiepolo painting as a person riding through the sky in a chariot, or she could be in a fashion magazine. There’s just this kind of continuity; in some cases I’ve liked working with actresses because there’s a certain malleability.