Artist Judy Cotton to Show Paintings, Read from Memoir at Lyme Library

"Wade" by Judy Cotton, 1998, encaustic and oil on paper (Courtesy of Judy Cotton)


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LYME — Water flows through the paintings and writing of artist Judy Cotton, serving as an energizing and healing force and a lens for viewing history and her own experiences. 

Cotton will open an exhibition of selected water paintings and read from her 2022 memoir, “Swimming Home,” at the Lyme Public Library on Saturday, April 6, at 3 p.m. The paintings will be on display from April 6 through May 31, 2024. 

“My husband and son were both rowers. And my husband bought a shell and said, ‘You should try it.’ And then of course I tried it, fell in love with it, and rowed a lot on the Connecticut River. One point I actually rowed across Long Island Sound,” Cotton told CT Examiner at a recent visit to her home and studio. 

Cotton, a New York based artist, and her husband, Yale Kneeland, an art conservator, came to Lyme part-time in 1979, to a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River, where she built her studio in 1983. They settled permanently in town in 2008. 

But her longtime connection with water began in her native Australia, where she grew up in the desert. 

On her webpage, she writes, ““water hypnotizes me, rain was so fugitive and unreliable that mirages floating above lakes of dry sand became my source of water. Later I discovered the ocean, and abandoned myself to it, swimming and exploring in what has become, over a lifetime as an artist, an essential element.”

In 1989, Cotton was struck down by Lyme disease and confined to a wheelchair for several years. She eventually recovered, partly through spending time in and around water. 

“I couldn’t even remember my name. The first time my husband put me in a pool, I thought it would be able to swim or float. I had to relearn it all. Swimming is a motion that came back to me,” she said. “The difficulty breaking some of the problems in my body, but the joy of water breaking on my body and rising through it — I’m an Australian, we swim.”

“Bloom” by Judy Cotton, 1995, oil on canvas (Courtesy of Judy Cotton)

Cotton writes about her Australian upbringing in “Swimming Home,” capturing the push-pull of her parents’ traditional ideas for her life and her quest for freedom as an artist, and the continuing connection to her native land even after years of international success as an artist. 

“Undertow is perilous, the Pacific riptide hauling me back hand over hand like a movie on rewind as I watch from the plane. Landing, I struggle to take off instead, but no matter how many times I leave, the land has me by the ankles with a grasp that won’t let go,” she writes.

For the upcoming show, Cotton said she chose paintings that related to one another, including a new painting of her granddaughters, a 2000 large diptych called “Sky Dive,” about the battle of Gallipoli, and a smaller painting, “Noon” depicting her family. 

“Sky Dive” by Judy Cotton, 2000, diptych, oil on canvas (Courtesy of Judy Cotton)

“I wanted to put the Gallipoli piece because of the wars that we’re all involved in right now, and it’s when Australia forged itself as a nation, and the same was true of New Zealand. And it just seemed to me like a good time to raise that story, or that question: war, soldiers dying, and why? Nationality? What is it? Why?”

Cotton said a show is always an experiment. 

“Those two spoke to each other – “Sky Dive” and my granddaughters definitely had a dialogue. I could not have been more surprise. They just jumped in there at the last minute,” she said. “And then it works with ‘Noon.’ Perhaps I’m celebrating my family somewhere in here.”

“Rower” by Judy Cotton, 1999, oil on canvas (Courtesy of Judy Cotton)

Cotton said her favorite piece in the show was “Rower,” from 1999, which she said was the last of a series that she still has in her possession.

“A couple of them are in museums… But there’s a certain melancholy to that. And it’s actually my husband sitting in the boat, so I’m glad that he will be there,” she said.

Water Paintings by Judy Cotton will be exhibited at the Lyme Public Library located at 482 Hamburg Road, Lyme, CT 06371. The exhibition opening and artist reading will be on April 6, 2024, at 3 p.m.

Judy Cotton has exhibited in more than 38 solo shows and 60 group shows in museums and major galleries in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and China. In 2018, “Hidden Water: Paintings and Sculpture by Judy Cotton” was exhibited at the Lyman Allyn Museum. Cotton’s work is also in the collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Phillips Gallery, the Florence Griswold Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and a number of private collections.