Greater Toronto Art 2024, March 22–July 28.

Petra Cortright


April 18, 2020
–May 1, 2020

Petra Cortright, forever_2_fast_2_subtle, 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Galeria Duarte Sequeira, Braga, Portugal and Team (gallery, inc), New York.

Shift Key’s newest instalment is a moving digital painting by Petra Cortright, one of the leading figures of both Net and Post-Internet Art. The work is an extension of her current show at Team Gallery in New York.

Cortright’s brand of landscape is chaotic, beautiful, and volatile, marked by abstraction and populated by jagged .jpg shards and swift blossoms of painterly brushwork; working with a pace and agility the digital methods at her disposal afford, the entanglement of mark-making, color, and texture can assume an almost synesthetic effect.

Cortright operates within the vernacular of landscape painting but outside of its classical means and materials, questioning how the haptic and lyrical might be laced within consumer technology, spam-text poetry, and files chosen not in defense of the poor image but in celebration of it. Her painting software of choice is, of course, Photoshop, and her works mine the expressive and unintended potential of its transformations, effects, and malleability. Evolving from earlier non-figurative works that include flash animation gifs and screensavers, in their insistent lightness and nimble fluency Cortright’s paintings conjure Jim Hodges and Helen Frankenthaler, and convey the quality of ‘breath’ highly regarded in Chinese landscape painting.

In the past decade, as internet culture has steadily progressed towards predictive, targeted consumption, content has become a vehicle for formats and platforms rather than the other way around. By contrast, Cortright’s sensibility extends from the culture of personalization and customization which characterized fledgling internet culture, a DIY-oriented MO of using the most immediate and accessible means to create and share in ways that subvert rather conform to structure and legibility. The very act of making is a through-line that evolves from the artist’s early webcam videos to the most recent paintings that position the how and why of creative production as a subject in and of itself.

The artist Paul Chan once described Cortright’s work as, “ the disinterestedness that only comes from a form of creating with nothing particular on the line, and this is what affords it a kind of freedom that becomes, in a word, delightful.”

READ: Art Forum–Petra Cortright on self-isolation, Zoom mania, and her early webcam works

Recommended Age: Grade 4 and up

  • How does this piece make you feel?
  • Cortright describes this work as a digital landscape painting. Using layers in Photoshop, she is able to achieve fluidity and movement, which gives the work a completely unique identity.
    • How would you describe this landscape?
    • In what area of the world might you find it?
  • The title of the piece is forever_2_fast_2_subtle.
    • Do you think this title accurately describes the work?
    • Can you think of three additional adjectives you would use to describe the piece?
  • If you could ask the artist a question about the piece, what would you like to know?

Past Shift Key Programmes

A still from Cecilia Vicuña "Paracas" (1983)
Cecilia Vicuña
A Still from Cauleen Smith "Pilgrim" (2017)
Cauleen Smith
Mona Hatoum
Aura Satz
Preemptive Listening (Part 1: The Fork in the Road)