Petra Cortright Is the Monet of the 21st Century — Artsy (2016)

Ever Gold [Projects]
Jan 17, 2018 8:34PM

Charlotte Jansen – May 13, 2016 3:04 pm

Photo by Stefan Simchowitz, 2016.

Petra Cortright, the 29-year-old Californian who has emerged from the art world’s post-internet sensationalism of the mid-2000s, shares this affinity with the founder of Impressionism. And beyond botanicals, her current practice is increasingly aligned with Impressionist ideas, but for the 21st-century set. While Monet and his male counterparts reflected on the experience of seeing in late 19th-century France, Cortright does just this in the present moment, reflecting on the digital landscape.

Her most recent works, now on view in concurrent exhibitions at San Francisco’s Ever Gold [Projects] and Berlin’s Société, are evidence of this: digital paintings filled with flowers and water lilies that are instinctively reminiscent of Monet. Both shows illuminate Cortright’s multi-pronged process. She begins by sourcing imagery online, employing a sort of digital impasto technique to make what she calls “a mother file,” which she then manipulates and prints onto various substrates—such as aluminum panels, sheets of linen, rag paper—which are layered to create the final painting, varying in opacity and translucency. “Each layer represents a painting permutation, making the combinations nearly infinite,” Cortright tells me. And as was the case with Impressionism, visible brushstrokes are a vital element of her new work. “I want the viewer to see the same brush strokes in the different versions and on the different substrates,” she explains. “All the physical pieces are unique, but there are deep elements of a digital process that I would never want to hide or remove—instead they are celebrated.”

Rather than painting en plein air, as was the Impressionist way, Cortright works doggedly indoors, online, in prolonged sessions that are physically challenging. Whereas Monet spent his days ensconced in lush blooms and greenery, Cortright’s garden is the internet; she observes it, not critically, but to capture fleeting changes in color, the effects of moving interfaces, and the backlight of screens. “I wear gamer glasses when I paint, because I paint in sessions of about 12 hours at a time,” she explains. “I always need to flip them up to check colors as I go, because they make everything yellow and block the blue.” At Ever Gold [Projects], works such as deicideCHEMICAL_records.tbl (2015) elucidate her rich sensibility for light.

Petra Cortright, deicideCHEMICAL_records.tbl, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Ever Gold [Projects].

Left: Petra Cortright,KRNKNKSSNBTRGVRGLCH_archive.LZ, 2015; Right: Petra Cortright,1872HRPR’SWKLLPHNTRPBLCNS_failsafes.SAB, 2016. Images courtesy of the artist and Ever Gold [Projects].

In this way, Cortright’s artmaking process is shaped by archetypal gender behaviours from the beginning. She paints with a rapid, action-style of painting, conventionally associated with masculinity. “I go really hard,” she tells me. “I’m not at all saying that women aren’t physically capable of making big paintings or anything like that—please let’s not even go there!” Cortright emphasizes. Yet she admits that she has scaled her work down physically to a size that she feels is manageable for her. It’s not only in her process that she considers the influence of gender.  

Cortright reflects on her position as a female artist in a male-dominated field. “I came up in such a boy’s club, surrounded by guys—technology-based work can be very guy-heavy,” she notes. “When I was at Parsons [in the Design and Technology BFA program], there were maybe three girls in the whole program, it was crazy.” She suggests that this gender bias may have been what led her to Pinterest, which became the source of the images she uses in her new paintings. “Pinterest is heavily geared towards women and I wanted to be using more of that imagery and energy, trying to make something that a lot of people really make fun of, things that are reductive to something that was additive.”

While gender is a complex issue, Cortright reiterates that the purpose of her art is more sensory than cerebral. The magic in her work is in making us see things we’ve seen a million times before as if we’re seeing them for the first time. “I’ve always preferred to have the core of the work be focused on much simpler, dumber, deeper things. Things like ‘beauty,’ things that are somehow so inherent to the entire human race, yet remain a very slippery thing to define.”

Ever Gold [Projects]