Using a refined painterly technique inspired by the Hudson River School and traditional figure painting, Will Cotton paints surrealistic foodscapes and demure female nudes wearing lollipop crowns, lounging in cotton candy, or adorned with cupcake foils. Cotton paints from life, constructing elaborate models using real baked goods and other confectionery, from which he derives the fantastical environments depicted in his large-scale canvases. Cotton’s work has been interpreted as a criticism of the greed and the overindulgence of American society, as well as a contemporary re-imagination of traditional genres such as landscape and portraiture. Cotton has also directed his creative energies toward the realm of popular culture, acting as art director for Katy Perry’s California Gurls (2010) music video and depicting the singer in a series of paintings.The artist has also been known to host annual bake-offs at his home, where friends, including artists and amateur bakers, present their finest baked goods. Cotton always judges alongside a guest; one year, Stewart held the position. Cotton first enrolled in classes at the Academy during his last year at Cooper Union, eager to gain more experience with figure drawing. “It was definitely hugely formative for me,” he says of his time at the school.Figure drawing is still an integral part of Cotton’s work, evidenced through his paintings filled with deftly rendered women, but also through his studio practice. Since 2002 he has hired models to pose at his studio—first weekly and now once a month—inviting artist friends to join him to draw. “We run it like an art school thing, except there’s no teacher,” he says.He first began using sweets as a metaphor for his own experience with substance abuse. In the ’90s, he made a series of paintings of advertising icons like the Nestle Quik Bunny, Twinkie the Kid, and Hamburglar. Looking back on the art-historical canon, largely populated by paintings filled with religious and mythological iconography, Cotton sought to develop symbolic archetypes that were relatable. He saw the Nestle Quik Bunny, always slurping large quantities of chocolate milk with a seeming lack of control, as the ultimate drug addict. “It was a time in my life when I was intentionally living a super-hedonistic life. I’d gotten curious with how far I could push it in terms of pursuing pleasure as my daily pursuit, which wound up meaning a lot of drugs and drinking and going out.” He’s been sober since 2002. “I feel enough time has passed that I can talk about it a little bit,” he says. “It really did have a lot to do with how I got into painting sweets as a metaphor.” With time, Cotton’s paintings have become more joyful, and though similar subjects prevail, he’s given them new meaning.