Cortese was born in 1949 in Giovinazzo, Italy. He received his diploma from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bari. He created sets for many theatrical companies. His works are in many museums in Italy; as well as in The National Art Gallery of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and at the MACLA in La Plata, Argentina.

He is best known for his sculptures and wall relief, which make a kind of plastic melody . A frequent element of his sculptures is a plumb line, or lines: pieces suspended in various manners.