Benjamin Cottam "Blue Skies and Red Paintings"

Tanja Grunert Gallery

poster for Benjamin Cottam "Blue Skies and Red Paintings"

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Nothing is quite what it seems at first glance in Benjamin Cottam’s sublime and mysterious paintings that seem to transcend their materiality. In his fourth solo show at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, February 16 – March 17, Cottam departs from his signature minimalist black oil paintings in exchange for intense layers of red that conceal a subtle surprise. In addition, Cottam presents a new body of work, Blue Skies, small expressive paintings whose tranquil nature belies a darker narrative of tear gas abuse. The lush monochrome red paintings retain the inherent qualities of the artist’s work – his mastery of oil paint applied in glossy layers, up to 20-30 per painting, that seduce viewers deeper and deeper into the works until images gradually emerge. Referencing holographs and the layered effect of flash photography Cottam uses to capture his subjects, the paintings stack their tonality backwards, exaggerating the imagery before bringing it back to normal. The faces that emerge, stark images of Cottam’s friends, mostly unknown and under recognized artists, stare out from the panels, stripped of any trace of their persona or sentimentality.

The classically sized paintings, 6 x 6 inches on copper and 12 x 12 inches on wood panel, feature obscure lives, now obscured by the layers of paint, waiting to be discovered. The abstraction and constant shift in perceptibility supports Cottam’s “lack of belief in portraiture.”

Benjamin Cottam’s Blue Skies series departs from the personal to the political. Working on ultra thin aluminum, light reflects off the translucent blue sky background and what the artist calls “happy, little, white puffs.” The intimately sized 6 x 4 inch seemingly bucolic paintings actually reference a more sinister history of destruction – governmental abuse of tear gas against their own people from public protests at G8 summits, Arab Spring, Occupied Wall Street, and more.

Utilizing alla prima technique used since the inception of oil painting and continually adapted by painters including impressionists Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, realist John Singer Sargent, and abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning — Benjamin Cottam challenges himself to master the inherent fragility and immediacy of the process in which the whole painting is completed in a single sitting. The reward is the delicate line and fluid energy captured in the work. As Cottam intentionally destroys the vast majority of these paintings before they’re finished, the presentation of five paintings from this series is exciting and rare – the first time for the artist.

The two-floor exhibition has a quiet sparseness, an extension of Benjamin Cottam’s own monastic life in his studio, exploring ideas of obliteration and obscurity, transparency and deception, mystery and rediscovery for those who take time for an intimate experience with the art.

The Artist
Benjamin Cottam lives and works in New York City. He received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. His work has been shown and collected internationally, and recent major museum shows include No New Thing Under the Sun, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2010; Stuff, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, Michigan, 2007; Of Mice and Men, The 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, Berlin Germany, 2006, as well as gallery shows at Bartha Contemporary in London, Galerie Von Bartha in Basel and solo exhibitions at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, NY. Cottam’s work has been collected by The Museum of Modern Art, NY, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.



from February 16, 2012 to March 17, 2012

Opening Reception on 2012-02-16 from 18:00 to 20:00


Benjamin Cottam

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