When someone calls to tell you that candy-sweet pop star Katy Perry is in pastry-loving painter Will Cottons studio, and will talk to you about the nude portrait she commissioned from him for the cover of her latest album ("Teenage Dream"), but only if you get in a cab immediately, and then run through the streets of the Lower East Side — well, you do it. In fact, yesterday that is exactly what ARTINFO did in order to watch the tail end of the unveiling of Cotton’s luminous painting of a demure Perry, in the buff, reclining on a fluffy pink cotton-candy cloud.
In Cotton’s studio, near the artist’s well-fed-looking cat and towers of pastel confections, with the pastry oven hard at work (necessitating that the air conditioning be turned off, which seemed to faze the cat more than the ever-cool singer), Perry described how she was first exposed to Cotton’s paintings when she was sent a link to his Web site by a friend. From that moment on, she told ARTINFO, she was seeing reminders of his work everywhere she looked. "I was picking out different girls that looked like the girls in his paintings and saying, 'this is you, this is me,'" she said. But she felt they were kindred spirits even earlier: "Before I even discovered Will, I was into all things cute and girly and beautiful and edible. The first record, it was all fruit, and now it’s all confectionary."
Standing mere feet from her sultry come-hither painted countenance, Perry said that she had from the beginning admired "Will’s ability to capture the beauty of a woman, and not in some kind of kitsch, annoying, obnoxious way, but really just in a gorgeous, beautiful, totally twist of a way."She then told ARTINFO the story of her first communication with Cotton. She emailed him about buying one of his paintings with "no idea that they were so expensive." The Mary Boone Gallery artist’s prices, moreover, weren’t the only thing standing in the way of their getting together. According to Perry, all of the works that she had inquired about were already sold. Luckily, however, Cotton, a self-proclaimed fan, ended his email response to the chanteuse, "P.S., is this Katy Perry, the singer?"
The artist explained how he had long admired Perry from afar, clipping images of her from magazines as a source of inspiration for his paintings. He confessed, "I actually had her album, I don’t know if she knows that. I know I’m not her normal demographic." When Cotton proposed the idea for a portrait, Perry agreed, posing for a full day for the work, which Cotton says he began work on three or four months ago. "She had all her own hair and makeup, which is unusual," Cotton explained. "This was a super professional operation — literally, three hours of hair and makeup just to get ready to pose for a painting."
When painting a portrait (in the past he has produced likenesses of Tom Ford and Mary Boone gallery director Ron Warren) Cotton stated that his aim is always to meet his sitter halfway — to make a good painting but also to capture the nuances of his subject’s personality. He described Perry as "sharp-witted" with "this kind of energy that emanates from her. She’s not a passive person to paint at all. That’s something I hope comes through in the picture. There’s something a little more animated about the pose, even though she’s laying down, but her mouth is slightly open, her toes are slightly curled over, her knees are bent, there are all these little symbols that make it seem like Katy."
The idea of using the vehicle of an album to disseminate Cotton’s work to a broader, more diverse audience appealed to both the singer and the painter. Cotton added another motive behind the collaboration: "I’ve always looked at pop culture. When I was a kid, some of the first stuff I got interested in was album-cover art. That’s what made me think about images at all. So to think that now I can give back to that part of pop culture is pretty exciting." (This type of reasoning was driven home last night as ARTINFO watched him assume the role of guest judge on Bravos reality show "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.")
In the end, Perry was pleased with the work. "I love all the different shades in the clouds," she said. "He shows the textures, you see the shape, and you can see how it’s cotton candy, and you can see from all the details — the shade of my eyelashes — that this is a man who does not miss a beat."The partnership, of course, did not end with the portrait, for, as any true fan of sexy and saccharine pop could tell you, Cotton served as art director of Perry’s "California Gurls" music video, assisting director Matthew Cullen, set designer Teri Whittaker, and production firm Motion Theory, in the creation of the candy-filled video sensation that has received 18 million views in only four weeks on YouTube.
Cotton, who said he was honored to be consulted rather than just have his work quoted for this video, explained that he built the Candy Land board on which Snoop Dogg plays all kinds of games with tiny, scantily-clad dancing and singing ladies. He also noted that the post-production crew stitched in maquettes and images from his archive onto a green-screen backdrop, literally implanting Katy Perry into a world constructed from his paintings.
Of Snoop Dogg, Cotton added, "He’s super tall. I have a picture of me with him; I’m like the little munchkin guy. And he’s so funny. He’s like the most chill person I’ve ever met. There was this moment, I was taking a picture with all the dancing girls and I’m smiling, like ‘look at me with all these dancing girls,’ and Snoop’s like, ‘Will Cotton, you’ve got to settle down, you’ve got to relax, you’ve got to chill.’"