Will Cotton (American, b.1965) is a painter who is greatly influenced by cultural iconography, the Candy Land board game, cotton candy, pinup art, the land of milk and honey in European literature and art, and gingerbread houses. He is well-known for painting landscapes that are constructed out of sweets. Artists that also have an influence on Cotton's work include Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826–1900), Gil Elvgren (American, 1914–1980), François Boucher (French, 1703–1770), and Carleton Watkins (American, 1829–1916). Cotton was born in Melrose, MA, and earned his BFA from the New York Academy of Art. After graduating in the late 1980s, Cotton portrayed pop icons, such as the Nestlé Quick Bunny, in his paintings.
According to Cotton, he was originally inspired by the commercial consumer environment that surrounds people. Each day a person is faced with hundreds of advertisements, some not consciously noticeable, that are intended to evoke desire. Fascinated by this phenomenon, Cotton played around with it in his paintings. It was in 1996 that Cotton decided to take this concept a step further by turning the actual landscape into the object of desire. For example, he began to paint landscapes made out of pastries, melting ice cream, candy, and other tantalizing sweets. Instead of merely painting an image in his mind, Cotton constructs maquettes (small models) out of real baked goods. After he is satisfied with the maquette, he paints the picture.
In 2002, he started to add humans, who are sometimes naked, into his paintings. The attractive females are just more symbols of desire and indulgence that reflect the gluttony of the unique world in which they live. Some of the artist’s most popular paintings include Ice Cream Katy, Katy Sugar Beach, Cotton Candy Katy, Ice Cream Venus, Crown, and Chalet. Singer Katy Perry approached Cotton in 2010 to request that he work as the artistic director for her California Gurls music video. Cotton accepted this offer and designed the props for the set. One of his paintings featuring Katy Perry was also used as the cover art for her Teenage Dream album.
Cotton's artwork is represented by the Michael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, Mary Boone Gallery in New York, Jablonka Galerie in Cologne, Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris, and the Baldwin Gallery in Colorado. Additional galleries and museums that display his works include the San Francisco Museum of Art, Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Germany, Triennale di Milano in Italy, and the Seattle Art Museum. Cotton continues to live and work in New York City.