Petra Cortright at Tristian Koenig

When painting was declared ‘dead’ upon the invention of photography, no one could have predicted how digital technologies and later, waves of internet related art, would transform, rather than eliminate, the oldest art form.
Los Angeles-based artist Petra Cortright has been a key player in post-internet art since before it reached full saturation, and now a new selection of her digital paintings are on view at Tristian Koenig in her first Australian solo exhibition.
Cortright made her name with low-res art videos, the first of which, WEBCAM (2007), was shown as part of Gertrude Contemporary’s Octopus 16: Antiques Roadshow last year. But her current solo, RUNNING NEO-GEO GAMES UNDER MAME, is comprised of digital paintings that employ screen aesthetics as a base, covered with markings that look painted in real life. Upon closer inspection, thick stripes of colour and three-dimensional textures dissolve into pristine surfaces of ink. Rich hues contrast with bright white lines and spherical stamps with an addictive luminosity normally not found off-screen.
Cortright employs various vector-based programs and apps to compose her paintings. Using a stylus, she creates her marks on layers that can be moved around or duplicated ad infinitum (and many layers are repeated throughout these five paintings). Ultimately she works with a master printing lab to export her digital files using an inkjet process onto Belgian linen and hot press rag paper. All of Cortright’s paintings are, however, never printed in editions – they’re one of a kind.
While the works at Tristian Koenig use web vernacular, the pieces in Cortright’s concurrent show at 1301PE in L.A. are composed of what look like thick finger-smudges of oil paint, à la Abstract Expressionism. In the past her paintings have featured collaged elements, including flowers, hair bows and giant blackberries, with a certain Pop Art boldness. Last year Artsy called Cortright the “Monet of the 21st century,” for her love of the process of making and for her desire to achieve beauty, which sets her apart from some of her hyper conceptual and/or political contemporaries.
Though art historical references are ripe for the picking, Cortright’s work is playing an active role in the aesthetics of tomorrow. Intentionally or not the artist has injected new fuel into an age old debate. Why make a gestural painting out of pixels instead of paint? What makes a potentially reproducible digital image unique, especially if you can view it on a browser anytime?
Though each work starts its life as a digital file, and is most often viewable somewhere online, Cortright has ensured that nothing beats standing in front of her paintings. Her works feel screen-grabbed from within an infinite scroll and pasted into the white cube. They are dreams of the digital age made impossibly analogue.
By Amanda Ribas Tugwell