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Marsha Cottrell

Marsha Cottrell: An Imaginary Cartography


The work of Cottrell is filled with hallucinatory images of imaginary places, taking digital graphics to a new level.

The imaginary landscapes of Marsha Cottrell (Philadelphia, 1964) are born from her uncertain yet methodical style of digital drawing. With what she calls her personal library, a compendium of images she’s collected over the years, she produces dreamscapes, stellar maps and other types of luminous cartography.

As her influences, Cottrell lists the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as sketches of maps and even images of storms. Landscape painting has also certainly had its influence on her, whose seems at times to hark back to the highly textured, rocky layers of the imaginary prisons of Piranesi, inviting the viewer to search the busy canvas for secrets like staircases that lead to nothing.

The amount of research that Cottrell has done to achieve the level of detail in her work is almost dumbfounding. She spent time studying, for example, the type of pressure needed to make the desired width of her lines, as well as the levels of saturation of black that forms the backgrounds of some of her pieces. The results have evolved over time. Her last series combined drawing with digital enhancement, and the outcome is a beautiful representation of the night sky, somehow resembling an image from both the distant future and the far off past.

Cottrell uses myriad types of figures in her paintings, which, when combined with a black background give the feeling of real depth. Her maps, in turn, seem to guide the viewer to fantastic or mystical cities, something along the lines of what Italo Calvino may have imagined while writing of ethereal cities slipping into a poetic and spatial experience.

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