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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson puppeteer brings colorful vision to UA

    To tell someone that you are a puppeteer is not generally considered an adept social maneuver. The word “”puppeteer”” conjures up frightening images of a wild-eyed man with a ratted beard and a legion of vaguely human wooden figures. He also probably has a basement full of bodies.

    Despite such social stigmas, Matt Cotten has propelled puppetry in Tucson to unbelievable heights. Working as a local painter, performer and teacher in Tucson since 1994, Cotten has helped helm a rise in puppetry. He taught in the College of Fine Art at the UA for 15 years, and is best known as an organizer of Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession and director of Tucson Puppet Works.

    Known primarily as a puppeteer, Cotten also works as a painter. Cotten’s paintings have recently been shown at the Tucson Museum of Art in the Arizona Biennial. This month, Cotten brings his unique painting style to the UA Poetry Center with “”Run Cookie Run!””

    Cotten’s exhibition “”Run Cookie Run!”” is inspired by his nighttime readings with his daughter, as well as waking dreams from his youth. The result is a raw and emotionally charged examination of childhood despondency.

    “”Run Cookie Run!”” is an unsettling exhibit. Cotten’s abstract, ethereal work conjures up feelings of abject displacement. The namesake of the exhibit, “”Run Cookie! Through the Cypress!”” features a sorrowful cookie standing alone in a dark, shrouded wood. The cookie’s hollow eyes convey terror and a longing for a glimmer of guiding light. Much like one of Cotten’s puppets, the cookie’s face is locked in a static gaze, seemingly without control over its fate. It’s a penetrating glance into the rearview mirror of early childhood when the future wore a veil.

    Using acrylic on canvas, Cotten’s style creates a fluid blend of distant color palettes smothered with abrupt, thick mattes of monochromatic paint. On “”Lucy Fell Down,”” Cotten’s backdrop is a gentle hue of yellows, oranges and reds, while the foreground features splotchy grays and blues. The chromatic juxtaposition mirrors the piece’s thematic anguish, as a line of anthropomorphized animals stand solemnly behind a crying girl. The piece suggests constant polarity.

    The critique is valid, as childhood often carries a card of falsified blamelessness. Just because children are innocent, this does not mean their experiences are. Cotten’s “”Remus and Romulus”” captures the uncertainty of youth. Feeding from their mother, one of the Romans turns and captures the viewer with its thousand-yard stare. Its eyes suggest a confused sense of duty, the knowledge that it must grow up and be something, even though all it knows is to suckle.

    Unfortunately for Cotten’s probing work, the exhibit layout is poorly conceived. Arbitrarily placed around the walls of the Poetry Center, Cotten’s art feels less like an exhibition than half-hearted décor. The intended singularity between written work and painted art is lost in translation. One painting — “”The All-Original”” — is even placed in a hallway to the audio/visual room. This is an absolute shame, as Cotten’s work is an enthralling glimpse into childhood neuroses that deserves better exposure than as an artistic afterthought. It’s not like we don’t have an art museum on campus.

    Though it lacks traditional comfort, there is a cathartic sensibility to Cotten’s work. Childhood was painful and confusing, but we made it through. Perhaps the future’s struggles carry the same silver lining in our blurry horizons.

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