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Not waiting for paint to dry: Petra Cortright

INTERVIEW! Copy, paste, voilà! Post-internet artist Petra Cortright makes "digital paintings" with Photoshop. She's gone from selling JPEGs to exhibitions at Frieze London. Catch the young artist's Berlin exhibition at Société before it ends May 27.

Image for Not waiting for paint to dry: Petra Cortright
Portrait by Stefan Simchowitz

American self-taught post-internet artist Petra Cortright talks about her digital process, her first JPEG sale and the dark web.

Despite dropping out of two art schools, LA-based Cortright has been commissioned by MOCA TV and shown at Frieze London, Whitechapel Gallery and the New Museum in just the last few years. We (fittingly) Skyped with her on the occasion of her new solo at Société.

You’re showing a few “digital paintings” that you’ve made in Photoshop. Can you walk us through your process?

I like to use software in ways it’s not intended; I like the challenge of it. I download a lot of source images – I’ve always loved Google Images, but lately I’ve been really interested in Pinterest. I work really intuitively, so I’ll just scroll, scroll, scroll, and then whenever I have some kind of connection with an image, I save it. Then I quickly start working in Photoshop. You can turn on settings so that each layer can be affected by other layers, so I can select and mix from all the layers below. Each layer can also be moved around. I can turn everything blue if I want to. I use a Wacom tablet – I can’t even imagine the carpal tunnel that would develop if I used a mouse.

Your paintings get printed on aluminium, Belgium linen, rag paper… Why not paint on a canvas?

My mom was a painter and I’ve tried regular painting before – it’s the slowest, dumbest thing on the planet. You can’t undo, you can’t copy and paste, I don’t have the patience for it. The whole waiting for paint to dry thing just doesn’t work for me.

When did you sell your first artwork?

I had a show in 2008 in Dallas, Texas, and we just showed one of my Photoshop collages on a screen. We didn’t even print it, it was just a JPEG, and that was sold. And I was fucking blown away by that. I was like, this is a joke, I can’t believe someone would buy this! Even the videos I was making, they’re not nice, long, highres videos. They’re shitty, really weird webcam videos. I’m constantly so grateful that people want to buy my work.

Has the internet really changed artists’ power – not just to share their work, but also to take the reins on their careers?

All the artists that I’ve come up with, post-internet artists, we’ve known each other online for years. I guess I don’t really know how people did things before the internet, honestly, in terms of their careers. I don’t know if you had to take a portfolio into a gallery or something, it sounds so miserable. I can’t even imagine. But I’m definitely glad that I am the age that I am. There’s so much competition on the internet now. It’s very different than it was just 10 years ago.

You were born in 1986. Do you remember getting the internet?

Yeah, I got the internet when I was like 10. I remember my first interactions with AOL, Google, Yahoo, early search sites and stuff. It was so empty, it felt like such a crazy void, but full of possibilities. The internet is a much different place now. It has way more advertising, it’s been very gentrified in a way. There are more restrictions. It’s not even a bad thing, it’s just a reality. That’s what happens. Now the internet has been replaced by the dark web, which I don’t personally fuck with, because I don’t want to see something that I can’t unsee. I just don’t think that people are posting their cool, wacky webcam software there. That’s not where the fun stuff is.

PETRA CORTRIGHT, Through May 27 | Société, Genthiner Str. 36, Schöneberg, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstr., Tue-Sat 12-18