Julia Sherman: You directed the Katy Perry Teenage Dream video. How did it feel to work with so many people, as opposed to on your own, in this much more pop medium?
Will Cotton: I was artistic director on the shoot for Katy Perry’s Teenage dream video. We filmed over a weekend on a soundstage in LA. On day one, we decided to add a thirty foot tall pink volcano and some giant sugar cubes to the set. The volcano came in on a truck that afternoon, and the prop guys made the sugar cubes in about 20 minutes. It was fantastic working with professionals like that. When I make sets and props in my studio it takes months.
JS: How is it different to paint Rose [Will’s wife], as opposed to another model?
WC: Most of the people in my paintings function like actors playing different roles. When I paint Rose it really matters that it’s her; she’s playing a part, but she’s also playing herself.
JS: The cakes in so many of your paintings get to glop and melt, but ladies stay pristine. What is the relationship between the subject and the setting?
WC: It’s fantasy. The normal rules don’t apply.
JS: What is it about excess and indulgence that makes you want to paint?
WC: I’ve lived it. Insatiability is fascinating.
JS: When and how did Candyland make its way into your work?
WC: So many of us Americans grew up playing Candyland. Back in the 90’s I came across the board I’d played on as a child. I was just getting into painting about overindulgence and desire, and I saw the potential for a common language in that imagery.
JS: You bake the cakes and sweets you paint, and you make the costumes too. You have a mixed media practice, in some ways. How is it important to you that you actually make the sweets yourself and shoot the photos that you paint from?
WC: I love to control the whole process. All the details really matter.
JS: Are you a self-taught baker?
WC: I’ve taken classes at ICE in New York, and spent a day working with Philippe Andrieu at Ladurée in Paris, but I’ve picked up most of it on my own, yes. Lots of trial and error.
JS: Most of these things are so ephemeral. They’d start to melt or trot with time. What’s the most difficult of the confections to work with?
WC: I’ve found ways to make realistic ice cream and cotton candy that don’t melt. Those are the tough ones.
JS: Oh wow, what’s the secret recipe?
WC: It’s made from Crisco, Karo syrup, and powdered sugar.
JS: Tell me about your bake-off competitions?
WC: I host a bake off competition in my studio each year with a small group of artist friends. We always have a special guest judge, and one time Martha [Stewart] agreed to do it. The competition got pretty serious that year.
JS: Is your sugar consumption off the charts?
WC: I often think about pie all day long.