A View From The Studios (Roll 2 / 2)

A View From The Studios

Roll 2 / 2

By Maya Koenig

The New York Academy of Art operates like a family home, with many bedrooms (studios), 
and living rooms (classrooms) where siblings (MFA students) spend a majority of their life for the 
next two years making their work. 

Here is a second glimpse of that world, taken with an Olympus OM-2 35mm film camera, 
and a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus (ISO 400) film.

Caleb Booth
MFA 2016

Tamalin Baumgarten
MFA 2015

Gabriel Zea
MFA 2015

Jaclyn Dooner
MFA 2015

Max Perkins
MFA 2015

Eric Pedersen
MFA 2015

Erich von Hasseln
MFA 2015

Alyssa Smith
MFA 2015

A View From The Studios (Roll 1 / 2)

A View From The Studios

Roll 1 / 2

By Maya Koenig

The New York Academy of Art operates like a family home, with many bedrooms (studios), 
and living rooms (classrooms) where siblings (MFA students) spend a majority of their life for the 
next two years making their work. 

Here is a glimpse of that world, taken with an Olympus OM-2 35mm film camera, 
and a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus (ISO 400) film.

Self-Portrait on the 5th Floor

Jess Leo
MFA 2015

Moses Tuki
MFA 2015

Marco Palli
MFA 2016

Ciara Rafferty
MFA 2016

Gabriela Handal
MFA 2015

George Rue
MFA 2016

Kathryn Goshorn
MFA 2015

Stay tuned for Roll 2/2!

One Sweet World - Will Cotton Master Class

By Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) 

Coconut Cake, 2013 
Will Cotton stands before a medium sized canvas, blank but for a few brown marks he’s laid in for measurements. He lazily wipes his paintbrush on his apron, which was once white but is now splattered with brown and red paint. “This is my rag,” he tells us. His voice is clear and his manner relaxed, and although it’s Saturday morning, students hang on his every word. The apron, plus his thick-framed glasses and leather combat boots, lend Will a hipster-butcher look.
But Will is more of a baker than a butcher. He has created a world of dream-like, candy-confection-landscapes, often inhabited by human subjects, and is best known for his highly rendered oil paintings. However, his world extends far beyond the canvas. Over three weekends in November of 2009, he installed a pop-up French bakery/art installation at Partners & Spade, where he baked and sold confections that often serve as visual reference for his paintings. In 2010, he directed Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” music video, (again based around imagery from his paintings, which Perry was attracted to). In 2011, Will created “Cockaigne,” a scrumptious-smelling performance piece employing both ballet and burlesque to celebrate whipped cream and cotton candy.
Initially, Will strove to make art that came out of an awareness of the commercial consumer landscape we live in. He studied at the Academy in the late eighties, (when it was still on Lafayette Street), and after graduating began to develop a language in which the landscape itself – filled with candies and cakes – became the object of desire. In the early 2000s, nude or nearly nude figures began to populate these scenes. “These paintings are all about a very specific place,” he says. “It's a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, meaning ultimately that there can be no desire, as there is no desire without lack.”
Will in his Studio 

Although his paintings seem “photorealistic,” Will always paints from life, so we work from a model for the duration of the two-day Master Class. “Life drawing seems to communicate to people more,” he says, as he begins his demonstration. “Even if I don’t get a likeness, it’s just more powerful. I always, always have a subject in front of me.”
He starts sketching out the model’s face and chest in raw umber, which he prefers as a drawing color because it dries quickly and is relatively transparent. “I like to compartmentalize,” he continues. “I put the structure down first, and then allow myself to move on to color… I think about John Singer Sargent, how he’d just kinda slap it on, and maybe be smoking and chatting while painting… I'm certainly no John Singer Sargent.”
“I begin with just the paint and turpentine because I don’t want it to get all slippery at the start,” he explains. At this early stage, he focuses on light, shadow, and contour, and is careful to point out that “contour includes the contours between light and shadow.”
As he draws, Will takes measurements and constantly corrects his work. “Drawing is all about being honest and not making assumptions. I’m always comparing between what I’m seeing and what I’m doing, and asking myself “what’s different?”” He pulls out a makeup sponge – “These things are great for erasing,” – and wipes away the lines of the model’s mouth. “It’s easy to think of the mouth as a flat structure, but we have to remind ourselves it’s curved.”
Most of Will’s paintings are very large, so a student asks how he draws out his compositions for larger pieces. “Usually I use like a 22x30 piece of paper and draw it out… and then I take a slide to project it,” he answers. “I cheat as much as possible…” He pauses. “Actually, I don’t think there is a cheating – the only thing that bothers me a bit is when I see people painting over photo printouts. There’s something I find a bit off-putting about that. But short of that, throughout all of history people have done whatever they can to get that image up there.”

Without rules in painting, it’s easy to look around and wonder, “What do I paint?” So it’s incredibly important for artists (of any sort, really) to give themselves constraints to work within. Constraints can be physical (like limiting your palette, tools, or surfaces), or conceptual, wherein you limit your subject matter somehow. Will does both, and the end result is highly specific and unique.
I’m curious about how Will sets the rules for his world, so when he makes his way over to my canvas, I inquire about it. “Well,” he says, “The world I create is probably not a healthy one… It’s made of sweets, and humans live there, and probably die there, too.” Currently he’s gotten a little tired of painting nudes, so he’s been working on a lot of costumes. “I can’t paint people in regular clothes, because that wouldn’t make sense to me… So I’m painting costumes made of candy wrappers. I ask myself a lot of questions - would there be cellophane in this world? Yes, because candy wrappers are made of cellophane. Would there be cotton clothing? No. Burlap? Yes. I just make logical conclusions and follow a thread, and one thing leads to the next.”
He looks at my painting, and reminds me not to let the paint get sloppy. “Use less turp – just go straight in with the paint for now, don’t let it get all inky or it’ll be less controllable.”
After five hours of painting, before the final hour of the day, Will has us all introduce some lead white. “It’s particularly nice to add lead white under the flesh.”

Will's Demo Painting

Will has a very limited palette, and Day 2 is all about how to use it. “These colors play well together,” he says, and he finds he can get pretty much any color he needs out of this group. “It’s a very obedient palette."

Will’s Palette: (All Old Holland brand)
-Titanium White – for opacity and strength (usually for highlights) 
-Magenta – (Quinecridone) – Will likes it for its coolness and vibrancy
-Cadmium Orange – With this and Magenta, you can mix any red you like
-Cadmium Yellow Light
-Delft Blue – this is a “middle” blue, so you can take it anywhere you want (ie towards green or towards purple). Will hates phthalos (monster-weed colors, far too strong), and ultramarine is too purple
-Ivory black –Will mostly uses the black for background, to represent a kind of dead zone or nothingness. Also, black and yellow make much more natural greens than blue and yellow
For demonstration purposes, he mixes his colors right on the canvas, in blobs at top, using different brushes for light and shadow. “I mix on the fly, all with a brush, because most of my colors are “ish” colors. I have to adjust constantly, so it doesn’t make sense to pre-mix with a palette knife,” he explains.

The Deferred Promise of Complete Satisfaction, 2014
Many of us were surprised by the lack of earth colors (oxides, umbers, ochres) in Will’s palette, because his paintings contain a lot of browns and flesh tones. “I use oranges, blues, and whites to create my browns,” he explains.
Will spends a lot of time looking at the subtle differences in color across surfaces of skin. “Light on flesh tends to get cooler and greener,” he says, “so I often go for yellow and blue when going for light in the flesh.”
Perhaps the most important formula any Academy painting student will learn during their two years is this: when the light mass is warm, the shadow mass is cool, and vice versa. However, what really makes a painting “sing” is the subtle temperature differences in “reflected light,” within the shadow mass.
“I love reflected light. It’s just my favourite thing… What happens in between light and shadow – that’s what’s really interesting, what pays off – it's more important than the color of the light mass,” he says. “See how this shadow color changes from blue to orange on the breast?”
Considering how well-rendered Will’s paintings are, what surprised me most about him was his aggressive facture. “The great thing about doing an under-painting is that it preserves the drawing,” he says. With the drawing intact, he can absolutely attack the canvas when he introduces color. “I just put paint on and move it around until it looks right. I’m also not shy at all about taking it OFF.” He takes 3-inch wide bristle brush and pulls paint across the whole form. “I’m not a big believer in the sanctity of the mark,” he says, slashing through the paint he’s put down. He steps back to assess, and then lunges at the painting again, like a fencer. “You may mess it up by doing this, but it creates complexity. If you just blend along the line you get tubes and sausages. If you do it with a big brush, you get weird little skin-like things happening.”
Many times during my second year at the Academy I’ve been reminded to “cover my tracks” – that is, not let my viewer see how I’ve made a painting. A painting can lose some of its magic if the viewer can say “Here’s exactly how I would make that” and imagine themselves recreating the work. It was a treat to get an inside look at Will’s process, and to see just how he goes from blank canvas to his highly realized, dreamlike candy land. Will Cotton is a baker, a painter, and in this respect, a true magician.

See more of Will's work and Greg Lindquist's excellent interview with him


Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) is a painter and Social Media scholar with a penchant for blogging. Check in on the Academy's blog to read more entries from Claire throughout the year.


There is a process in which the artist’s identity inhabits the work one way or another. The real presence of identity is often overlooked. The Student Curatorial Committee (SCC) opened "Copy, Cut and Edit," an exhibition that unveiled, through the practice of portraiture, the identity of artists with three different but complementary elements.
Evidently, there is plenty of literature that states that identity is inherent in every person, but the search of identity is a process that is often belittled. In the process of creation, artists navigate, construct, imitate and tear apart systems of information. Sometimes, artists are not conscious of their in-born quest that leads to the sense of self; however, their search of identity naturally manifest in their work.

Curator Daniela Izaguirre stated that during the first month of classes she observed that many peers were finding personal insights through the use of techniques and methods assigned in class. For example, activities like analyzing our own facial anatomy that opened up internal dialogues with matters beyond observation. Then, realized there was a deeper story in the physical actions of creating artwork, a natural human narrative in making sense of who we are.
“All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” -Shakespeare
Daniel explains “When I think of art, I think Shakespeare said it all: Human nature is predictable. I observed as well that there is a continuous thread that ties the millennial artist, managing a social media account, and Egyptian funeral painters, that of “editing” our own identity and how others perceive it.” 
The purpose of the SCC is to allow students to broaden their experience in the contemporary art world. They are encouraged to conceptualize curate, and install exhibitions. The following are some comments from some of its members:
“During the selection of the work I did my best to put my own identity on the side and tried to read the artist’s identity in each piece. Being able to step into the world of others was a very enriching personal experience,” says Daniela

Richard Buchanan, a member of the SCC stated: “The student curatorial committee provides a wonderful platform for graduate students to engage with the curating experience. Being a part of this group has been a fantastic learning experience. I found Heidi Elbers’ (NYAA Manager of Exhibitions) input and guidance invaluable throughout the process.”

Curator Marco Palli reflects: “The best part of the curatorial process was to mingle with the student body. It was inspiring to see my peers’ work and to hear the stories and processes behind each single piece. I was honored that they let us enter into their studios. Unequivocally, I felt proud of belonging to this great community of artists.”

This exhibition is currently on view until late January 2015 on the 2nd and 3rd Floors at the New York Academy of Art. We invite you to experience it!