Petra Cortright


Los Angeles based artist Petra Cortright (b.1986, Santa Barbara) has forged a unique vocabulary at the intersection of digital and real. She has been hailed as ‘the Monet of the twenty-first century’ by Charlotte Jansen (Artsy, 2016) and her paintings as ‘Cy Twombly meets Hahao Miyazaki, only denser and more whimsical’ (LA Weekly). Without a doubt, Petra Cortright is today’s Post-internet queen bee and an effortlessly-cool nerd. Cortright’s art practice revolves around playful, often erotic, images executed on computer softwares. Her video art and paintings focus on self-portraiture and online imagery, blurring the boundaries of our online and offline existence. 

The experience of Petra Cortright’s art starts from the Internet: her website welcomes the viewer with an Emoji-crucifix and hundreds of arrows pointing down until the button ‘CLICK HEER’. What looks like an old-fashioned Window-based programme magically unfolds into a Net-Art glitchy reality.

Born in Santa Barbara to an artistic family – her father a sculptor/printmaker, and her mother a painter –, Petra Cortright found in the Internet an alternative arena of art. “I have to say that the internet really worked out for me as a female, as an introvert,” she explains, “It allowed me to compete in a removed but very aggressive way” – in conversation with Sophy Grimshaw, Supplement, 2016.

Cortright started exploring Net Art and performance with her self-portrait videos, using a low-res desktop webcam with cartoon effects, background music and nonsense titles. The banality of such imagery – waves, flowers, pizzas and light bolts flying around –, accompanied with the intimacy of her performative space, conjures up early films by Andy Warhol, Hannah Wilke and Bruce Nauman.

Cortright’s webcam videos go deeper than the emojis may suggest: they reflect the act of looking and being looked in front of the camera. “I am the director, the actor and the editor, all in one take,” she explains. Observing herself being observed, she blurs the boundaries between private and public while playing on both the rawness and disguise of social media images. 

When uploading the videos on Youtube, Cortright adds a list of dizzying random tags, spanning from “Britney Spears” to “boos” and “sex”. Her celebrated webcam video VVEBCAM (2007) – now in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York- was deleted from YouTube in 2011, due to the spammy tags that ignited the anger and critique of the viewers.

“Cortright’s mother files are built up from the endless iteration of what are profoundly private visual, temporal, and spatial entities. They are the wet-dream actors of adolescent sexual rehearsals, solipsistic webcam posturing, and distracted-browsing self-indulgence. Would you ever act out a real-life equivalent to an emoji in a conversation? Of course not. Cortright’s works disrupt the comforting stability that would confine the digital to the servilely personal, and make a frantically gorgeous show of it” – Valerie Mindlin, Artforum, 2016.

Having straddled the lines of video and performance, Cortright has recently turned to painting. Each of her digital paintings come from a jpeg image – what she calls ‘mother file’ – lifted from internet sources such as Pinterest and Google Images. She then manipulates it on Photoshop, breaking down its colours, shapes and patterns while adding hundreds layers of digital brushstrokes. 

Confronted with the endless possibility of digital manipulation, “the challenge is knowing when to stop,” admits the artist. Once satisfied, Cortright prints the image, and transfer it into bi-dimensional canvas. She experiments with different materials including aluminum, silk, raw belgian linen, and cotton rag paper linen. 

The painting enters a new physical and finite reality, yet its fluid abstractions seem to allude to other worlds, not far from those calming landscapes of the Impressionists: “I love trying to create a new world. The act of making art is somewhat of an escape for me but also somewhat finding truth as well. They happen simultaneously” (Petra Cortright in conversation with Sophy Grimshaw, Supplement, 2016).

Not tied down to a single medium, her digital files also transform into live videos and sculptures: “It’s important for me to be able to make things without limits, and not feel restricted by materials.” The tension between Cortright’s webcam performances, erotic videos and flat-screen paintings, questions the limits of art in the 21st century, reuniting the digital and physical in innovative ways. 

Petra Cortright (Santa Barbara, CA, 1986) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. She studied Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design, The New School, New York, NY (2008); and the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA (2004).

Petra Cortright had her first solo exhibition at Carl Kostyál Gallery, Stockholm in 2014, followed by the solo show “orange blossom princess fucking buttercup” at Carl Kostyál Gallery, London in 2016. She has also participated in the group exhibition ‘Malmö Sessions’ (2019), at Carl Kostyál Gallery, Malmö, Sweden and the artist residency ‘Coccaro on Paper’, organised by the galleriest at Masseria Torre Coccaro, Puglia, Italy (2018).

Recent exhibitions include: “.paint,” MCA, Chicago, IL (2020); “The Body Electric,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, touring to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; “Dirty Protest: Selections from the Hammer,” Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; “Now Playing: Video 1999-2019,” Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ; “Hate Speech: Aggression and Imitation,” Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz, Austria; “Plugged-In Paintings,” SITE131, Dallas, TX; “Lucky Duck Lights Out,” 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA (solo)(all 2019); “I Was Raised On the Internet,” MCA, Chicago, IL (2018); “RUNNING NEO-GEO GAMES UNDER MAME,” City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand (solo); Foxy Production, New York, NY (solo)(both 2017); “Electronic Superhighway,” Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK; “ORANGE BLOSSOM PRINCESS FUCKING BUTTERCUP,” Société, Berlin, Germany (solo)(both 2016); and “NIKI, LUCY, LOLA, VIOLA,” Depart Foundation, Los Angeles, CA (solo)(2015).

Public projects have included commissions from Frank Gehry Partners, LLP; Midnight Moment, Times Square Arts, New York, NY; Art on theMART, Chicago, IL (all 2019); and SketchedSpace in Seoul, South Korea (2018). In 2014 Petra Cortright began to collaborate with fashion designer Stella McCartney for a series of video projects and digital modelling. 

Cortright’s works are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Péréz Museum, Miami; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; MOCA Los Angeles; Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology; MOTI, Breda, in collaboration with Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; MCA Chicago; Kadist Foundation, Paris, San Francisco; BAMPFA, Berkeley, CA; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose; MOCA Los Angeles; and Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology, New York.