Robert Cottingham (born 1935) is an American Photorealist painter and printmaker. He is regarded as one of the seminal figures of the Photorealist movement. Cottingham’s technical expertise and tightly cropped subject matter result in compositions that oscillate between the abstract and the iconic. Cottingham’s depictions of vintage signs, neon lights, and storefronts have a documentary quality that evokes the optimistic promise of modernism—a notion that has been fascinatingly complicated by the collective hindsight of the twenty-first century.
Robert Cottingham was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1935. He studied graphic design and advertising at the Pratt Institute from 1959–1963. While maintaining a career in advertising, Cottingham taught himself to paint in any spare time he could find: evenings, weekends, and even vacations. Although he started painting at 28, his early works demonstrate a high degree of finish. By 1968, with three exhibitions in Los Angeles, Cottingham finally decided to dedicate himself solely to art.
Although Cottingham lived abroad while stationed with the U.S. Army in Orleans, France from 1955–1958 and in London from 1972–1978, he has always focused on the depiction of American iconography. While living in London, Cottingham received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974.
Cottingham served as an artist in residence at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in Colorado Springs in 1994 as well as the Center for Creative Youth in Middletown, Connecticut in 1987–1992. He also taught at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1991 and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California in 1969 and 1970. Cottingham received a retrospective exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1998. In 2000 he joined the council of the National Academy of Design in New York City and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
“Starting in 2004, I produced numerous drawings and paintings based on images I had found in an old engineering textbook. I had been intrigued by mechanical drawings ever since my years at Brooklyn Technical High School, and these images quickly became the basis of an eight-year series that I titled COMPONENTS.
While most of these objects can be defined as machine parts, their individual functions are not always so apparent. It was this ambiguity that drew me to them. Each became the central issue of its own painting, identifiable as a three dimensional object but with no clear indication of its purpose.
Besides this investigation of form, the series deals with color in several ways. The earlier paintings are broader and more varied in their explorations of one hue against another. In the final group of canvases, the glossy black objects reflect the background colors in more subdued and, I think, richer tonalities.”
-Robert Cottingham, from the book Photorealism in the Digital Age © 2013
Citation: Bernarducci, Frank, Harris, Elizabeth K., and Meisel, Louis K. Photorealism in the Digital Age. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2013.
2014 – “Photorealism: The Everyday Illuminated,” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
2011 – “Robert Cottingham: Empire,” Forum Gallery, New York, New York
2008 – “Robert Cottingham: Components,” Forum Gallery, New York, New York
2005 – “Tandem Press: Robert Cottingham,” Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts
2005 – Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris, France
2004 – “Robert Cottingham: Components,” Dieu Donné Gallery, New York, New York
2004 – “New Still Lifes,” Forum Gallery, New York, New York
2001 – “Still Lifes,” Forum Gallery, Los Angeles, California
2000 – “Still Lifes,” Forum Gallery, New York, New York
1998/99 – “Eyeing America: Robert Cottingham Prints,” National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1197/98 – “Hollywood Stills: House Portraits by Robert Cottingham,” Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California
1997 – “Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet,” Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut
1996 – “Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet,” Forum Gallery, New York, New York
1994 – Struve Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
1994 – Takada Gallery, San Francisco, California
1994 – “Robert Cottingham,” Triton Museum, Santa Clara, California
1994 – Harcourts Contemporary, San Francisco, California
1993 – “Robert Cottingham: Rolling Stock Series, Paintings, Prints,” Central Connecticut Statue University, New Britain, Connecticut
1993 – Marisa del Re Gallery, New york, New York
19912 – “Robert Cottingham: Rolling Stock Series,” Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
1991 – Harcourts Contemporary, San Francisco, California
1990 – “Robert Cottingham: Rolling Stock Series,” Marisa del Rey Gallery, New York, New York
1989 – Fendrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1989 – Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, New York, New York
1988 – Fendrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1987 – Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, New York, New York
1986/90 – “Robert Cottingham: A Print Retrospective,” Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, Missouri; Travelled to: Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Newlson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma; Center Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania; Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut; Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
1985/86 – “Barrera-Rosa’s: Robert Cottingham,” The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; Travelled to: Fendrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
1985 – Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1984 – Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, New York
1983 – “The Photo-Realist Statement: Recent Paintings by Robert Cottingham,” Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas
1981 – Fendrick Gallery, New York, New York
1980 – Madison Art Center, Madison, Wisconsin
1979 – Delta Gallery, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1979 – Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut
1978 – O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, New York
1976 – John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California
1975 – Galerie de Gestlo, Hamburg, Germany
1975 – DM Gallery, London, United Kingdom
1974 – O.K. Harris Gallery, New york, New York
1971 – O.K. Harris Gallery, New york, New York
1970 – Molly Barnes Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1969 – Molly Barnes Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1968 -Molly Barnes Gallery, Los Angeles, California
The New York Times – “Art in Review: Robert Cottingham” by Ken Johnson