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Oral history interview with Robert Cottingham, 1998 July 27

Oral history interview with Robert Cottingham, 1998 July 27

Cottingham, Robert, 1935-

Painter, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 2 sound cassettes (135 min.) : analog.

Format: Originally recorded on 2 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 6 digital wav files. Duration is 2 hr., 8 min. Tape 2 (Side A) also contains last part of 4/7/98 interview with Harold Tovish.

Summary: An interview of Robert Cottingham conducted 1998 July 27, by Robert F. Brown, for the Archives of American Art, in Cottingham's studio, Newtown, Connecticut.

Cottingham discusses being raised in Brooklyn; drawing from an early age; the NY World's Fair, 1939-1940, and the tremendous impact on him, as did buildings, signs, and great bustle of Times Square; lasting impact of Edward Hopper's "Sunday Morning," which he saw at the Whitney Museum; his love of using a T-Square and triangle in industrial design courses at Brooklyn Technical High School and the influence on his work; working in a Manhattan advertising agency for 2 1/2 years; army service in Orleans, France as a mapmaker; working as an art director at Young and Rubicam advertising agency in Manhattan (1959-1964) which exposed him to great variety of print and graphic media; work in Young and Rubicam's Los Angeles office; first painting in NYC in 1963; painting steadily in L.A. which led to first shows (1968-1970) at Molly Barnes Gallery; use of black and white and later color, photographs and many sketches to produce paintings; avoidance of narrative, just suggestions of places, and incorporation of advertising signs beginning in the mid-1960s; living entirely on his paintings by 1970; breakthrough in 1969 to greater use of color, bolder design, and 3-D illusion; adoption of square format and depiction of fragmentary glimpses of things which led to leap of quality; and sticking with this mode ever since.

Biographical/Historical Note

Robert Cottingham (1935- ) is a painter and printmaker from Newtown, Connecticut.


This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.


Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

Use requires an appointment.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Robert Cottingham, 1998 July 27. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.