I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the one guy who taught me more about painting in the shortest amount of time than any other…Sir Cotti. I’ve lost touch with him over the years but I see he’s still painting and is nearing 80 years old. He was a real character when I knew him. I spent about six months studying under him, off and on, back around the year 2000, when he was living in Scottsdale, Arizona. He lived a mere block or two away from the prestigious Scottsdale Artists School, yet I think he hardly ever went there and for me at least, his teaching way surpassed anything I ever obtained there. He was fussy! A typical session would require first stopping off at his place, then a trip to the grocery store to get cough drops, water or whatever it was he was wanting at the time. He was used to being catered to and obviously had a throng of hanger-on’s (I’d like to think of myself as a more serious disciple, but I digress). I Sometimes I would show up there in the afternoon and would have to wade through the clutter of the previous night’s party. To say Cotti is a character was an understatement. However, he was always a very good guy, easy for me to talk to, frank, and I can say I learned more from him in my first lesson that from any other artist, period. Which is why, while searching around on eBay recently, I snapped up this painting he had done sometime in the past.
Here are some photos and an article I found recently…
Brushes with fame and glory illuminated the road from California to Muskogee for an internationally renowned artist who now makes his home here.
The journey for Cotti – his professional name – began at age 16 in Los Angeles, where he lived with his parents and seven siblings. His art — and Uncle Sam — landed him at least three overseas gigs.
The artist, born in 1935 as Marcos Cotti Lorango Jr., launched his professional career early, exhibiting his first works at age 11. He earned his first commission at age 16, getting special permission to travel from school to the Paramount Theater to work on a project for which he received academic credit.
During the 1950s, Cotti studied at the Chouinard Art Institute, highly regarded at the time as a “hotbed of experimental art.” He later studied at the Frank Wiggins Institute, known for its apparel arts program, and fine art oil painting under the mentorship of Dino Sider.
“I was privileged back in the 1950s to be trained by fine oil painters of that time,” Cotti said. “Fine art painting is becoming a lost art, and I am proud to carry on the old-school traditions of Rembrandt and other classical artists.”
The talented choreographer, set and costume designer, and ballet dancer’s art career was interrupted briefly when the Army summoned him in 1958 to serve a stint in Korea. Cotti traveled to Europe during the 1970s and ’80s after earning commissions from the legendary filmmaker Orson Welles and the British pop-fashion designer Peter Golding.
A family emergency brought him back to the U.S., where his reputation as an artist continued to flourish.
Three years ago, Cotti moved to Muskogee to join his sister Sylvia Swan, and her husband, Dean Swan.
Cotti, 77, has a small downtown studio, where he teaches the “old-school style” of fine oil painting.
HOMETOWN: Muskogee and Los Angeles.
CAREER: Artist, painter and teacher in the Dutch school of art.
EDUCATION: Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles; Trade Tech – Frank Wiggins Institute, Los Angeles; studied oil painting with mentor Dino Sider.
FAMILY: Most of the Lorango family lives in California. The Swan family, with whom I live now, is originally from Oklahoma.
CHURCH: Baptized Catholic.
HOBBIES: Swimming, bicycling and sightseeing.
run in the family
Art, for Cotti, comes naturally. After all, his family had exhibited an artistic streak for as long as he can remember.
“It was just always there,” Cotti said when asked about his talent and the source of his inspiration. “I don’t feel it was a special gift that was handed to me — my family, they all had that gift. It’s in my genes.”
He said he had an uncle in Mexico who painted portraits, and sculptors came from his father’s family in the Philippines. A brother became a “fine artist dealing with glass and mirrors,” and a sister was a fashion model, he said.
“There were eight of us, and all of them were fine craftsmen,” Cotti said of his siblings. “It wasn’t exclusive to me. I just happened to be the one who took it seriously — I found it a good escape from my East Los Angeles existence.”
Cotti’s reputation as an artist bloomed at an early age while he attended school in what he described as the “poor part of town.” He began exhibiting his work at age 11.
Word of his work spread throughout the city. At 16, Cotti landed an assignment that catapulted his professional career — the chance to capture on canvas the stage performances of Josephine Baker.
Baker, a St. Louis native who started as a vaudeville performer before becoming a sensation in New York theaters and a hit in the Parisian cabaret, was performing in Los Angeles. Captivated by Baker’s elegant wardrobe, Cotti featured her in some of his drawings.
“She saw them and was impressed enough to commission me to paint her while she performed,” Cotti said. “That was most impressionable at the time.”
by stint in Army
Cotti pursued his formal education at prestigious art schools in the Los Angeles area, where he studied the classics, fashion and dance.
An accomplished costume and set designer and dancer, Cotti began working in the theater.
“I was very involved in the theater, but then the Army came and I was given an Uncle Sam’s ‘greeting,’ ” Cotti said. “I decided carrying a rifle wasn’t any fun while I was there, so I introduced my art to the Army and ended up doing a mural (of Mount Rainier) for them at Fort Lewis, Washington.”
Discharged in 1960, Cotti continued his pursuit of the arts, studying under a veritable list of Who’s Who in the classical arts. In the early 1970s, Orson Welles commissioned Cotti to paint his portrait.
The famed filmmaker, who was living in Paris at the time, was recruited by the shah of Iran to help bring the 20th century to his country. Welles was working on his final film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” which never was finished.
“The money was endless, and I had carte blanche — it was quite a wonderful commission knowing the flow of money from the shah was keeping us all happy — and Orson was quite an experience,” Cotti said.
Return to States
Cotti’s work caught the attention of Peter Golding, a pop-fashion icon in Great Britain. He commissioned Cotti in the 1980s to paint a portrait of his girlfriend in London. Cotti opened a studio there, but after a year, a family emergency brought him back to California.
“I was not planning on coming back, and it was very difficult to leave Europe,” Cotti said. “C’est la vie!”
But Cotti continued his artistic endeavors stateside. He was invited by MGM’s film historian Jim Jeneji to paint a portrait of Marlene Dietrich from his personal collection of photographs. Dietrich saw Cotti’s work and commissioned another portrait.
“She was very critical of anything done of her, but she saw my work for Jim and was very impressed,” Cotti said. “I got it started, but it was still in progress when she passed.”
Today, Cotti’s passion for art survives and he works out of a small studio in downtown Muskogee, where he lives with a sister and brother-in-law.
“I had in my old age and my lifestyle some health issues, and I wanted to be with family — that is what made me most comfortable,” he said. “I had a good time ruining my health. But Mother Nature can be pretty cruel, so I had to cut out all of the fun things — except for my art.”
Cotti teaches new students the “old school Dutch style” of fine oil painting from his studio. He also donates his time one day each week to work with veterans. He still paints originals.
“Still, there is that passion,” Cotti said. “But then again, I think it goes back to my family’s genes — I just get the credit for it.”
How did you come to be an Okie from Muskogee?
I relocated here because my brother-in-law and sister live in Muskogee and offered me the opportunity to relocate.
What do you do with your free time?
Dine out, watch movies, read and go sight-seeing.
How do you make a living in Muskogee?
What would make Muskogee a better place to live?
Better transportation and increased involvement in the arts.
Is there an Okie from Muskogee who you admire?
Dean Swan because of his sense of humor and life experiences in Europe. Dean is knowledgeable, experienced and well-read. He is loyal to his family, friends, fellow veterans, associates and the community.
What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you since you have lived in Muskogee?
Being voted among the top 10 artists in the Azalea Festival and Concert in the Park competitions and receiving an award from the Department of Veterans Affairs for the national competition.
How would you sum up Muskogee in 25 words or less?
I am impressed by the passion of the members of the Muskogee Art Guild, the Arts Council and the city’s efforts to bring Muskogee back to life and witnessing it happen.