5 Minutes with Petra Cortright

This month we interviewed artist Petra Cortright and she selected 9 of her favourite artists from our roster of emerging talent. Petra tells us more about growing up in Santa Barbara, what inspires her and her craziest experiences in the art world.

Tell us about your upbringing.

I grew up in Santa Barbara – a small beach town with dramatic mountains set right up against the ocean. The landscape is really specific, the viewpoints are long. the light here has a certain colour. Space is vast in California and I think subconsciously it has set a horizon line in my work.

What are the best conditions for good work to take place?

When there is nothing on the line.

Who or what inspires you the most?

So this isn’t exactly answering this question but I have noticed that my ideas and motivations for working are seasonal. I really like painting in the spring and in the fall, that’s when I have the most energy and clarity. In the winter i’ve traditionally worked on videos, it’s darker and moodier. The summer I have the least amount of energy or desire to make anything. It’s too hot and it’s ugly, the light quality is dusty and brown. The heat is oppressive and melts my brain and I can’t focus.

How has your own work changed over time? What kind of life events have motivated these changes?

Actually I try not to change the work, but it changes regardless of whether I want it to or not.

Trust your instincts, buy something that you love, don't buy anything because you think you're supposed to like it.

Your work spans lots of different mediums whether it be a painting, sculpture, performance, videos or digital experiments. Is there any medium you haven’t exposed yourself to that you would like to try?

Not really, I just sort of do what I want. If the opportunity arises then… maybe. i’m just not the type to go out of my way just for the sake of pushing. To be honest I think going outside your comfort zone is overrated.

What kind of music inspires your work if any?

Painting to classical music is always really lovely

One item you cannot work without?

I don’t know if this is obvious but a desktop computer, a keyboard and a wacom tablet – I cannot stand to work on a laptop for anything besides basic typing. Working on a phone is my worst nightmare. Besides the basics (a desktop, keyboard, mouse, etc) I don’t like the idea of being attached to anything in particular. I try to strive for flexibility and adaptation. Okay that being said, for videos, I have a specific webcam that I bought in 2009 in Japan and it has a certain quality that I really love and I will be really sad when it breaks.

Craziest experience you’ve had in the art world?

Being befriended by Stella. I was taken off guard by that because she was and is so generous and welcoming. 

What kind of art do you like to be surrounded by?

I have a lot of outsider art in the house, it’s very pure and full of spirit. I have a lot of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and I have work by friends. I’ve run out of wall space otherwise there would be even more. 

Tell us one thing few people know about you?

If I wasn’t an artist (and seemingly have to be, as it feels like more of a compulsion than a choice) I would have liked to have been a botanist.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

As an American artist, being acquired by MOMA this year was a big honour.

If there was one thing you could change about the art world for the better what would it be?

The rampant virtue signaling, cancelling, and call out policing, etc. it’s all very very bad for art and it’s creating a lose lose situation for everything. We don’t need a monoculture…It’s. bad. for. art.

What advice would you give to someone looking to buy their first work?

Trust your instincts, buy something that you love, don’t buy anything because you think you’re supposed to like it. Living with art is an enriching experience, and its okay to have your tastes change and keep switching things around. Take the pressure off. It’s also a noble thing to support living artists and to spend money to contribute to culture, and not put money towards things that sterilise it.

Is there an alternative underlying narrative that has occurred in your selection of artworks – if so what is it?

It was 108 degrees with a wildfire raging nearby on the day I chose the work and between the smoke and the heat and my brain coated in ash I was drawn to a more dreamy hazy painty floral selection.

What have you learnt during lockdown?

A life of limited social interaction is very anti-human and I love everyone and am sorry they have had to live like this, it’s awful to not be able to touch people or be close to them.


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