Robert Cottingham

b. 1935

Robert Cottingham (b.1935, Brooklyn, NY) is recognised for his Photorealist paintings of American urban landscapes, particularly his depictions of painted and neon shop signs and building façades. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1958, Cottingham studied at the Brooklyn Pratt Institute, earning a BFA in 1963. In the early 1960s, Cottingham began a career as an art director for an advertising firm. In 1964, he relocated to Los Angeles for work, where he became inspired by the drastically different environment of the West Coast metropolis. There, Cottingham began to commit seriously to painting and, in 1968, ended his career in advertising to devote himself to art, with his first solo show in 1971 at OK Harris Gallery in New York. 

Although considered a leading figure of Photorealism, Cottingham rejects association with the movement. Instead, he sees himself as working in the long tradition of American realism, citing Edward Hopper and the New Realists as influences. Often changing the words in his signs and façades, Cottingham does not regard his work as mere copies of photographs but changes their meaning to draw out the subject matter of so-called Americana. He describes his fascination with signs and undeniable interest in typography and letters as originating from trips to Times Square as a child. In the late 1960s, Cottingham started to incorporate photography into his practice, using his camera to separate and isolate each detail of his surroundings from their context.   

Cottingham’s work was featured in seminal early presentations, including Harald Szeemann’s documenta 5: Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today, Kassel (1972) and Photo-Realism, at the Serpentine Gallery, London (1973). He was elected an associate Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1990, becoming a full Academician in 1994. In 1998 Cottingham had a retrospective, Eyeing America: Robert Cottingham Prints, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Recent institutional group exhibitions include American Dream, National Museum in Krakow, Poland (2009); Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009); HyperAmerica: Landscape - Image - Reality, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2015) and Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting (2013-2017), which opened in Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany before touring to 10 locations including Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, U.K.; and Tampa Museum of Art, Florida.

Robert Cottingham lives in western Connecticut.

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