The Lockhart Gallery on Main Street is featuring an exciting contemporary artist this month: Cicely Cottingham. Based in New Jersey, Cottingham’s work is mostly abstract, with hints of landscape that are identifiable throughout. She is inspired by her own childhood—as she grew up in a woodsy farmhouse—as well as by post-impressionist front-runner Paul Cezanne. Of Cezanne’s work, she asked, “How can a still life painting composed of mere paint and canvas be so alive and elicit such an emotional response?” It is this connection to the audience that Cottingham strives to emulate in her work.
Other influences on Cottingham––which are visible in her work––include the Luminist painters—who emphasize a “unique clarity of light”—and that of her mother, who always encouraged Cottingham’s desire to create. In fact, Cottingham has dedicated an entire collection in her mother’s honor, entitled “16 Painting for Marjorie.”
Entitled “Everything is Sky,” the exhibit in the Lockhart Gallery includes works from two of Cottingham’s collections: “Everything is Sky” and “Now you feel how nothing clings to you.” Both collections represent something deeper to Cottingham; the former “signal[s] a passing of time and a shift in mood” while still conveying her “love for landscape” and the latter is a “reflection on chaos and impermanence.”
Every one of Cottingham’s paintings in the exhibit—which are done in acrylic on wooden panels—are full of color and texture. It is true that the viewer is able to decipher elements of landscape within them, but the added element of abstraction allows the viewer to create their own landscape instead of being restricted by line and form, as with a traditional landscape piece. Each piece evokes a sense of childishness—or rather the freedom associated with childhood—which only enhances the viewers’ freedom of interpretation.
“Now you feel how nothing clings to you (as swans swim in the lake)” is a perfect example of this, as one can interpret the colors and shapes to be a sun, a tall tree, a mountain and a lake, but without strict representation of those forms. In other words, they do not have to be a sun, a tall tree, a mountain and a lake, if you choose not to see them as such.
In Cottingham’s work, one can see that, “Color and shape reflect a more urban environment, yet the landscape of her youth is never entirely out of the picture.” This is perhaps well demonstrated by Cottingham’s “Now you feel how nothing clings to you (tigers above, tigers below 2).” This piece contains a cacophony off smaller shapes and lines—which translate well into the hustle and bustle of a big city—yet still features many organic forms as well.
Not all of the pieces in the exhibit bombard the viewer with color. Some are more mellow and relaxed, such as “Everything is sky (here is your home).” This piece certainly keeps within Cottingham’s style of intense color and texture, but the color is more spread out and uses more white than other pieces.
Cottingham seems to stress this contrast between peace and chaos, particularly in her two-panel pieces. “Everything is Sky (thatness or suchness)” is a gradual change from a great mixture of many colors—blues, oranges, greens, yellows—on one panel, to a simpler panel that is a flatter, tamer mix of greens and yellows.
Needless to say, there is much to see and experience in just one Cottingham exhibit— and ours right here in Geneseo does not disappoint. As the exhibit will be up until April 30, it serves as a perfect welcome to springtime.