A Review of Petra Cortright: Pale Coil Cold Angel at Nahmad Projects, London

 
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American artist Petra Cortright is sailing the wind of technology - her's is art of the post-internet age. She creates work, which explores society’s relationship with technology as approached from an artistic starting point. Pale Coil Cold Angel at Nahmad Projects delves deeper into the idea of creating work via new technologies. In a departure from some of her more feminist-focused iconography, the new works in this show focus on composition and colour more than anything else.

It's a compact yet stunning show, foregrounding an artist who is pushing the boundaries of post-internet art and questioning what it means to be an artist in 2018. Cortright’s work is unique for her entirely contemporary approach. She creates all of her work on Adobe Photoshop, executing what she terms a ‘mother file’ before the final imagery is transferred onto the finished artwork.

 

 
 
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Her contribution is purely digital, provoking an intriguing dialogue between creation and production. Her process retains the intimacy of any other artist - she works quickly, but this is allowed by the nature of technology, and she makes marks or chooses others from her personal library, creating imagery in the same way one would if making marks on paper or canvas. Cortright has stated that she “hated” regular painting when she tried it, and is of the generation, like mine, that grew up creating their own miniature masterpieces on the beloved Microsoft software, Paint. She is a thoroughly modern artist using, as Nahmad Projects puts it, ‘contemporary tools,’ in a post-internet phenomenon.

It is wonderfully clever, really, especially when one encounters the three white Carrara marble sculptures, her first of this medium and form, which have been cast entirely using 3D processing. They are yet more incarnations of physical manifestations of her digital work, this time dabbling in 3D form. Their perfection is enticing, the smooth surface completely as envisioned by the artist.

Anyone who has employed traditional art forms like painting or sculpture might see the show and depart somewhat jealous of Cortright’s innovative approach. She has the ability to work quickly, with elements of colour, light, composition, texture, all at her fingertips on an online database and toolkit.

Once she is finished with a composition, she can rest assured that its final form will be exactly as she has imagined and created, and she can put it to rest as a finished artwork. She has to deal with none of the frustration and stress of artists who cannot get their oils or wax or other physical material to behave in the way they desire.

 

 
 
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Some have compared Cortright’s mark-making, particularly in her digital painting, to the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It could be wrong to confine Cortright to this school, but the language of her work is not completely removed from their's - particularly her keenness for impasto, and gestural mark-making. It is action painting on a digital scale, albeit with the ability to change and edit as technology allows. She is a Monet of the digital age, her work an impressionistic celebration of colour and form that recalls the urgency of twentieth century abstractions. Her brushstrokes are made purely on Photoshop, whether they are her own or lifted from her library archive - digital effects that condense the disposable aesthetic of the internet age into the scintillating and kaleidoscopic paintings that are on view in this show.

Iconography and imagery are repeated throughout the paintings, a copy and paste effect that she lifts out of mundanity and infuses with dynamism. Her work has an entirely re-inventive quality - the largest painting in the show, the silvery expansive landscape of the quadriptych, contains repeated imagery of a outlined female nude in a digital response to the tradition of female representation in art. By repeating this digitised iconography, Cortright reclaims the image and the tradition for herself.

 

 
 
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Her use of imagery more generally is intended to be subversive, trawling internet archives and platforms such as Pinterest to find elements which she then transplants into completely different contexts. She tries to break down stereotypes, and particularly ideas of perfection, re-appropriating images to create new images which suit her style.

Cortright came to my attention, as many internet phenomenons do, from finding her performance art filmed on a webcam on YouTube. She makes art that she likes and wants to see, a refreshingly personal and honest approach to her market. Beginning with performance art, she moved into digital painting (the six-metre quadriptych in this exhibition is the largest of her paintings to date) and a series known as ‘painting videos’, which is like a mesmerisingly slow-moving gif, opulent and pearlescent on a just over eight-minute loop, gradually changing with you as you move around the space.

 

 
 
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The dynamism and movement of the video format adds deeper meaning to the static paintings that surround it - suggesting that they too could be painting videos were they not simply captured stills.  These works entice you and yet are very subtly challenging you to respond to them on purely an aesthetic level. Cortright has always been insistent that she makes art that she likes to look at, free from symbolism and iconography and the conceptual or political or socio-economic ties that weigh down, sometimes even drag down, other contemporary artists. She is asking what art is, in this post-internet age, and what it means and what we as the viewer want it to mean - if anything at all? 

Written by Georgia Messervy, a Contributor to Arteviste