Los Angeles-based Petra Cortright is a post-internet artist who explores and uses the vernacular of internet culture. Cortright first made digital webcam videos of herself with flash animations for online viewing. She has also made live video paintings and gallery-bound pieces that she refers to as ‘paintings’: digital collages, created from computer photos and graphics that are linked to the grand tradition of Impressionism.
Cortright studied at San Francisco’s California College of the Arts and New York’s The New School. She received her B.F.A. in 2008 from New York’s Parsons School of Design in the Design and Technology program where male students dominated. There were only three female students in the program at that time. This gender bias led her to Pinterest, which became the source of the images she uses in her ‘paintings’.
Cortright’s ‘paintings’ of idyllic landscapes, trees, and flowers are created in a complex digital painting process. She sources imagery online, using a digital impasto technique to produce a “mother file” of hundreds of Photoshop images. She adds simulated brushstrokes of painterly marks created with digital brush tools. She manipulates, combines, and compresses these layers onto various surfaces – aluminum, linen, rag paper, silk, or plexiglass – to create the final ‘painting’. “Each layer represents a painting permutation, making the combinations nearly infinite.”
The concept of layers, which is at the heart of Photoshop, is helping her create works that are now in development and will be launched in the future. (AR) augmented reality and (VR) virtual reality offer ways for Cortright’s work to move between digital space and reality, between two and three dimensions. Her portfolio of images allows for the translation from the virtual world to a magazine page. “I guess I’m thinking of making gardens, AR gardens for people . . . And after the year everyone’s had, I don’t even know what to give people other than gardens. I think it’s almost like a duty to beauty and peace at this point.”
In her video art, she often records herself performing simple acts such as dancing in her bedroom, swirling her hair, or tugging at a tree branch which she uploads to YouTube and captions with text. In 2007 when she was still a student at Parsons, she made her first video work, “Vvebcam.” She recorded herself with a disaffected gaze while animations passed through the screen and a repetitive beat played in the background. It was a short piece of less than two minutes, but in 2011 Youtube removed it because of its sexual language. Recently she has created videos that reveal her working methods, which are now standalone pieces.
She has always incorporated signs and symbols that refer to gender and beauty. For her 2015 show at New York’s Foxy Production she used greeting card software to create plexiglas paintings. This is a result of her interest in art archetypes, such as landscapes. Her materials and techniques consider visual cliches and how they structure ways of seeing according to gender. The finished paintings reproduce the sense of the feminine archetype that she began with; “ . . . my paintings always do come off very feminine, because I am a woman . . . “
In her second solo exhibition at Foxy Production her works were noted for her handling of light and her loose brushwork reminiscent of Impressionism. In one photographic seascape, stretched across three panels, her painterly waterlilies and slashing strokes of color recalled the work of Edouard Monet.
Her work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions in the Walker Art Center, Hammer Museum, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, New York’s Foxy Production, London’s Whitechapel Gallery, Berlin’s Societe, and others.
Cortright’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Miami’s Perez Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art; Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, and others.