Will Cotton

The Taming of the Cowboy

Ten years after his last exhibition at Galerie Templon, the New York painter Will Cotton, famous for his depictions of all kinds of sweets, is unveiling a provocative and quirky exhibition at the gallery’s Brussels space: The Taming of the Cowboy.

Exhibition view, The Taming of the Cowboy, TEMPLON Brussels, 2020
Exhibition view, The Taming of the Cowboy, TEMPLON Brussels, 2020

In a nod to his country’s political schizophrenia in the midst of the electoral campaign, Will Cotton offers a new take on the myth of the cowboy, symbolizing the conquest of the West. His large, ostensibly classical oil paintings portray a surprising encounter between triumphant cowboys and their fantastical steeds: pink unicorns.

The figure of the cowboy evokes a strong sense of American masculinity, associated with freedom, manifest destiny and a culture of violence. In contrast, the unicorn — particularly when pink — reminds us of a more contemporary mythology that has in recent years taken possession of the little girls’ section of toy and clothing departments everywhere. Questioning the notion of gender, the exhibition explores the relationship between the sexes along with the hyper-sexualisation of childhood, the notion of queer, and the LGBT movement, whose global mascot has recently become the rainbow unicorn.


The show features a group of oil paintings as well as new drawings in oil, sanguine and pencil inspired by his trips to Wyoming in the USA and Camargue in France. A variation on the cowboy-unicorn duo, these works on paper offer a humorous deconstruction of the question of representation.

In the world of Will Cotton, beautiful compositions and landscapes made of cascading sweet treats or mountains of meringue are not only an ode to the opulence of an idealised America or a lost paradise. They also mark a desire to question painting. His technically masterful style of painting explores the fluidity between different identities and cultural as well as artistic categories: popular icons versus classical painting, timeless myths versus advertising images.



The artist

Born in 1965 in the USA, Will Cotton lives and works in New York. The artist belongs to the generation of American painters who have taken the language of figurative style painting in a totally new direction. He works in his studio building giant confectionary-based assemblages, such as gingerbread houses, sweets, cake mountains and chocolate seas, opening the door to the creation of a new reality. Will Cotton sees his works as utopias that explore the notions of temptation and excess.

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