Recent Masterpieces

Theatre is Served Poster

On the night of Friday, August 13th, 2010, I suffered a minor tear in my left calf muscle trying to run through a fountain with Veronica. She successfully made it to the other side and back dry, while I took two running steps before the snap in my leg sent me hopping in sickly retreat to the starting point. Not my proudest athletic moment, and for someone who lives at the top of a five floor walkup it was a reckoning. But I did have the good fortune of dating a terrific girl, and she took me in for 5 weeks as well as my dog, and took true VIP care of us both.

When New Perspectives Theatre Company approached me about Theatre is Served, I was convalescing at her apartment, my leg in a cast. What astounding timing, except for their need for it to be a “work of art” completed yesterday. Not being in possession of an operational time machine and being a notoriously slow worker to begin with, I got to work on it right away and was pretty diligent in logging full working day hours on it each and every day I had. But my deadline did require an extension to the absolute boundary of what they could tolerate and still make use of the piece in time for an upcoming event, or about two weeks. Some artists can churn out brilliant work in hours, for me two weeks is often barely enough time to sketch out my ideas and to allow those ideas to begin to marinate and take form. But I did my best in the finite time I had to bring them something resembling a finished piece, a “work of art”.

Theatre is Served is a staged reading series in which the audience is served a meal which has a thematic connection to the play being read. The notion is that this dining experience echoes the French cabarets of the 19th century, and therefore the piece was to be fashioned in the spirit of the old cabaret posters. How could I not immediately turn to my fellow whoremonger, Toulouse Lautrec, for inspiration? He became my clear, instant muse and his work my palpable template. There are three elements in my piece which directly lift from him in reimagined forms, in this, my homage to the master, Toulouse.

Operation Helping Hand

I’m one of those people who look back at college fondly and maybe a little more often than I should. Glory days? Not exactly, but I developed a pretty rich social life at SUNY Purchase. I learned a few things, in and out of the classroom, and I seemed to come to know a lot of people in my community in a relatively short time. I was a very active boy.

In the moment I wasn’t able to appreciate the experience, of course, the way I do in reflection; much as I don’t experience current moments the way I will in reflection, hopefully. It’s the people from that time and place at SUNY Purchase still keenly in my life as well as those more peripherally so, and those with whom I’ve reconnected or with whom I may reconnect, which keeps my nostalgia potent by continuing to bring fresh input and opportunity.

The filmmaker Wendy Jo Cohen was studying for her BFA in Film while I was at Purchase, and so as you can imagine I was out-of-my-shoes thrilled when she reached out to me to do some artwork for her current project, The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek. I drew two related pieces, Operation Helping Hand and Operation Divide and Conquer for the film, a mockumentary she wrote, directed and produced about “the outrageous tale of four forgotten heroes, the [Civil War] battle they fought, and the bigoted political cover-up that erased their stunning victory from the history books”. My drawings are only small contributions, since scores of renderings by dozens of artists appear in support of this fantastic tale of American history.

The Cinematography by Matthew Howe is sweet, and not just because of all those memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons with him both at Purchase as well as for several years after in the basement of the Knight residence on West 93rd Street or the West residence in Park Slope. One of the talented comedic principals in the cast, Maureen Brooks, was my most significant girlfriend at SUNY Purchase, and one of my most significant romances of any era in my life. We lived together, and dated for several years after school as well, and off and on stuff & etc. There were probably other SUNY Purchase alumni who contributed to Wendy’s film, too; after all, it has a rich cast of contributors. Anyway, let me not look back more than I should.

Operation Divide And Conquer
Hidden Treasure 1 Hidden Treasure 2 Hidden Treasure 3

After losing my day job of 13 years in September 2011, my time freed up — as did my soul - to dedicate to my work again, to creativity. One of the first avenues I pursued was to submit an illustration to Highlights For Kids on spec, a “find the hidden objects” piece. Viqui Maggio, a terrific artist and dear old friend of Veronica’s, had done so herself in the past and hooked up the connection for me. Always a slow illustrator, I submitted one pencil illustration for approval while Viqui submitted three. All four of our combined submissions, however, were rejected.

Dear Stuart,

Barbara Grzeslo forwarded your Hidden Pictures submission to me to respond to you after she and the editors reviewed your drawing. I am sorry to tell you that we will not be purchasing this illustration. The editors felt that it does not meet the needs of our publications. Thank you for your interest in Highlights for Children.


Juanita Galuska

Hidden Pictures Administrator

In this section I’ve included my rough initial pencil idea as well as the pencil illustration with accompanying key which I submitted to Highlights For Kids. But, of course, the story doesn’t quite end there, or the results. All that free time already spent developing this illustration shouldn’t be in vain, I reasoned. I was inspired to complete my hidden objects piece, but was no longer under the constraints of designing a work made for children. For April Fool’s Day, I sent them this juicy reply:

Dear Juanita,

Thank you for thanking me for my interest in Highlights For Children, and you must also kindly thank Barbara Grzeslo for me for forwarding my submission to you to respond to me with apologies from you on her behalf.  Now that that's all cleared up, I'm sorry too.

As neither you, Barbara nor the other editors provided specific suggestions for me to develop my illustration to meet the needs of your publications or from which I might learn and reapply myself to some other future submission, I have taken it upon myself to tweak my initial illustration in an attempt to better meet the needs of your publications.  Let me stop here to thank you on behalf of all artists for encouraging us in your own way.  You keep the starving artist, well, starving.

While I'm not submitting this for publication, I hope you enjoy the new direction.

All my best,

- Stuart Cottingham

I’ve included the first pencil version of Hidden Pleasures in this collection, which was sent as an attachment with the April Fool’s Day letter, as well as the final pencil version, the Highlife Hidden Pleasures logo design and the finished piece. Truth is I’m a bit disillusioned and wounded. Aren’t we all? It’s one of the unfortunate things which come with growing up, but its material for an artist. Some of my frustration and anger over their rejection and stemming from the rejection of my long-time former employer found a home in the new version, Hidden Pleasures. It is meant as a purposefully vindictive response, an angry voice from my adult perspective seeking to spoof and violate my innocent childhood memories of reading Highlights; a product of much life lived since then and my dose of human despair. Things which bring pleasure to some, after all, can be lethal to others. A gun can kill you, but it also can protect you. No hidden object in the piece is strictly bad, or wholly good. They are simply things, recognizable objects, nouns which happen to come charged with connotations, parts of the adult world in which we live — they represent salvation and destruction, pleasure and pain. And if you ponder this illustration long enough, I warn you that you might have to get used to the inherent disappointment.


The I LOVE NY Rat is a simple spoof of the I LOVE NY tourism campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York state and New York City, too; I’m her native son. I don’t mean to pick on rats, either, because I have the highest respect for rodents and other living beings. New York City certainly doesn’t corner the market on urban rat infestation or cockroaches or pigeons or bed bugs or urban decay or crime or so-called urban blight. But it all does get a bit overwhelming sometimes — the litter, the car exhaust, the excrement - doesn’t it? And that’s not even scratching the surface of the pollution we endure, when light and sound pollutions are factored in. It’s a wonder we don’t all lose our damn minds.

So, that’s it in a nut. No, I don’t believe we’ve all lost our marbles, I simply believe that the human being is a filthy animal (you probably thought I was going to say that about rats). I’m not talking personal hygiene here I’m talking bad behaviors, not the morality play kind but the human condition in a physical world, in a collective of our own making known as a city. We are urban blight; the rat has adjusted to us over an evolution of thousands of years to become a happy beneficiary of the destruction we wreak living our day-to-day lives.

New York City is a great city — I’m prejudiced to believe that she is the greatest city in the world, and clearly the greatest in the United States. But I don’t need to defend her against anyone who would defame her — she’s plenty capable of telling people to go fuck themselves in her own cruel way; chewing them up into pieces, swallowing them whole in one delicious gulp, spitting them out in a landfill, crapping them down the sewer or worse yet, sending them back home on a Greyhound bus. But she’s great because of her incredible history and because she represents a snapshot of the American dream better than anyplace west of the Hudson River. Is there any place as diverse or accepting of diversity? New York City is still the destination of the dreamer, artists and entrepreneurs, romantics and predators arrive with their hopes to rise or fall.

The Rolling Stones sang “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple. Don’t mind the maggots”. My rat is, and he doesn’t. He loves the garbage and the grid, and to jump out through the subway grate and scare the shit out of Veronica and me.