For his third New York solo exhibition, Benjamin Cottam focuses his gaze firmly upon
himself in new series of self-portrait paintings and drawings that invert the often self-
aggrandizing genre of self-portraiture as he paints himself hidden from view, in paintings
that initially appear to be monochromes, and draws himself reduced in size to that of a
Typically, self-portraits play to established expectations: public confession, self-analysis,
self-promotion, platforms on which an artist can play whatever role is chic at that time –
harlequin, hero, rebel, aristocrat. But Cottam’s self-portraits do not perform any of these
functions. On first glance they do not even appear to be portraits; rather, they present as
black monochromes. It is only upon closer inspection, and some work, that they reveal,
just beneath their glossy surfaces, photo-realistic faces and figures. Yet, as quickly as the
portrait is found, it is lost and a give-and-take dance commences in which Cottam’s image,
glimpsed through the darkness, flickers at the edge of perception. These are self-portraits
that dare the viewer to overlook them.
Celebrity, connoisseurship, the artist’s ego and people tipping on the edge of success and
failure formed a major concern within Cottam’s previous drawing series – silverpoints of
dead artists and goldpoints of the British rock star, tabloid hero, and drug addict Pete
Doherty. Building on his previous work, Cottam depicts himself in what might be stupor,
confusion, indecision, or distress that could almost give Pete a run for his money. None of
the artist’s images are complete, fading into the much larger paper. But the heads are not
simply incomplete; large and small sections of the face have been erased. The wispy,
smoky remnants that surround the heads in the previous series take on a new importance as
reminders of what was edited out of the drawing. Even when the image is placed in plain
sight, Cottam pointedly holds something back from the viewer.
Through nearly impenetrable black glazes and minuscule size, Cottam does all he can to
deny the expectations inherent within the self-portrait. He puts what would be private on
public exhibition while still keeping it private, negating the public’s expectation of access to
the artist through his work. There is no confession, there is no insight; whatever role he is
playing is as incompletely apparent as the images themselves. And by negating the self-
portrait as a platform of self-promotion, Cottam questions his own importance as well as
the privileged position of the artist as a star.
Cottam will also show a small group of false monochrome paintings and miniature goldpoint
drawings of embattled celebrity Lindsay Lohan.
Benjamin Cottam’s work has been widely exhibited and collected. In the spring of 2006 his
work was featured in the Berlin Biennial and in the fall of 2006 in a solo presentation in
London. In the winter of 2006 he was included in the group exhibition “six feet under” at
the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland.
September 6th – October 9th, 2007
Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.