‘You Know the Bird That Does That Crazy Mating Dance? That Was Me’: Artists Petra Cortright and Marc Horowitz on Their Zany Courtship
In Artnet News's Portraits of Love series, young creative couples offer insights into their partnerships.
Sometimes romances are born of charming chance encounters and novelistic meet-cutes. Other times, they begin with two people drunk in a hot tub. The latter was the case for Petra Cortright and Marc Horowitz, two LA-based artists who have been together for seven years, married for four, and who recently welcomed a newborn baby.
Cortright and Horowitz are the kind of couple whose dynamic makes sense immediately. Speaking with Artnet News over Skype last month, Marc, still recovering from an unpleasant episode of “bad clams and salmon roe over the weekend,” chugs seltzer while recounting his cocksure efforts to woo Petra, who is much more reserved—and yet not impervious to his strange humor.
“I thought you were annoying,” she says dryly.
The two are sitting in Marc’s large Altadena studio, his primary-colored canvases in the background. Despite making names for themselves as Post-Internet kids who straddled the lines of video, performance, and other mediums, both Cortright and Horowitz have migrated to painting in recent years. Petra opens a show of new work at Team Gallery this week, while Marc is prepping for forthcoming exhibitions in Yucatan and Majorca.
For the latest installment of Portraits of Love, an interview series focusing on the inner workings of artist couples, the two met with us to discuss the ways in which they’ve influenced each others’ work, how they balance their professional and personal lives, and how they fell in love.
I read somewhere that you guys met in a hot tub. Is that true?
Marc: That’s accurate. It was in Venice, California, at the home of a friend we had in common.
Petra: I was hanging out with some artists who were in town. We were swimming in Malibu and it was getting kind of late and cold, so I called that [mutual] friend—the only person I knew who lived on the west side. I said, “We’re cold and we don’t want to sit in rush hour traffic right now. Do you know anyone with a hot tub?” He was like, “It’s so weird that you’re calling me right now. I’m sitting in a hot tub—come over.”
Marc: I was there first, right? I was getting pretty tanked up—I had had a couple of beers and a little weed. Then this girl got in the hot tub and I was just gobsmacked. I was like, “Who is this?”
Petra: And I was just like, “That guy is so weird.” You were saying weird stuff, doing crazy things. Everyone was clearly thinking, “What is up with that guy?” But later, like three hours into meeting Marc, I realized that I knew who he was. I had actually read about his work when I was at Parsons, and I had heard our mutual friend Marisa [Olson] talk about him before.
Marc: About how handsome I was?
Petra: No! Anyway, you were still a weirdo, but after we made the connection that we both knew Marisa, you were at least a verified weirdo. You’re lucky that you knew Marisa because, otherwise, I would have said there’s no way.
Marc: After that, it was late and we were ready to go and I was like, “Hey, Petra, I’ve got some really great mezcal—why don’t you just stay at my house?”
Petra: I needed a ride. And his house was not as messy as his behavior. He actually had a really nice place. There were signs of life.
Marc: I had real furniture and a big TV and a nice guest bed. You know that bird that does that crazy mating dance? That was me. I had made my little nest just right for her.
Petra: Technically I moved in with him that first night. I had just moved to LA. I didn’t have like a lot of stuff going on and we were partying a lot.
Marc: I remember after a couple of days, I called a friend of mine from grad school and said, “I’ve found the woman I’m going to marry.” He was like, “Bro, you’ve got to slow your roll here.”
But you were right! So when did the proposal happen?
Marc: I proposed to her at a sushi restaurant that her parents used to go to in Little Tokyo. It was called Frying Fish. It had a conveyor belt.
Petra: It’s no longer there.
Marc: I got the ring and I called the sushi place to set everything up. Then I had to get Petra into a nearby grocery store somehow so I could sneak over to the restaurant. I told them, “Put it in a piece of sushi. When I ask for this particular sushi, you’re going to put it on the conveyor belt and it’s going to come around and I’m going to give it to Petra.” When I got her into the grocery store, she was like, “Why am I in a grocery store and why are you leaving? This is fishy.” No pun intended. Then the ring came around she just said, “What is that?”
Petra: I didn’t have the sweetest reaction.
Marc: But she said “yes,” and that’s all that matters.
What was the wedding like?
Petra: It was a picnic-style wedding on the lawn at a friend’s house. We made all of the blankets that people sat on.
Marc: My best man was an artist, Joe Reihsen. He made all of the tables. Petra’s family made all the pies.
Petra: A lot of friends helped out. It was really special. And Stella McCartney did the dress. I had just started working with her that year and was like, “Oh, it’s so nice to meet you and work with you. By the way, can you give me a wedding dress?” So I traded her a video for a custom dress. She had bought a few videos before. She’s amazing.
Marc: Then we recycled all the blankets afterward and Petra’s mom made actual quilts. She’s still using the fabric.
And you recently had your first child?
Marc: We’ve reproduced.
Petra: He was born last October. He’s wonderful.
I imagine he’s had a significant impact on the way you work?
Petra: I think the biggest thing is that it’s made us refocus our time. Before, I could just wake up and say, “Do I feel like working today?” Now, I’ll get a couple of hours [to myself], and then I just have to go to work. I think I had to learn to be more disciplined, but it was actually kind of nice because sometimes you can get in a rut when you don’t have that.
Marc: And we’re actually going out more and being more social now than we were prior.
Petra: We go to a lot more openings.
Marc: He’s very, very sweet. It was tough at first, though. Through those first few months, we were waking up every one or two hours. And then people are like, “But isn’t it beautiful?” And I was like, “Piss off.” But it was good. We were in it together, you know? We have three chihuahuas and a fish, too. It’s a full ticket here.
What do your studio lives look like? Are your workspaces connected to the house?
Petra: Marc’s studio is in the back in a separate building behind the garden. I work from a small room upstairs. I’m almost like a writer because I don’t physically produce the work; I just work on my computers. I like to work from a small, cozy room, and I always have to have a bed in there. Because my studio has always been my computer, I got used to working out of my bedroom, so now I have to recreate that domestic environment to work to do my best work.
Marc: I’m the opposite. I spread, man. Our studio before this was 9,000 square feet. It had an indoor archery range—I mean it was like some Bruce Wayne shit. Petra hated it because it was so cavernous.
Petra: I never liked that place. Being in an outside studio made me feel like I had a job. I hated it.
Marc: In that regard, we’re very different. I work with my hands, I like to feel my way through materials. She’s on her computer. I thank baby Jesus that we’re not the same kind of painter because I think that that would be a nightmare.
Petra: I love being an artist; I love art and there are a lot of amazing people in the art world. But at the same time, the art world can be a toxic place. There’s a lot of jealousy and people can be extremely careerist. I think for us having a family and a home was always really important—it can protect us from that toxicity.
Marc: It was always important for us to have more than one reason to exist. We never wanted to live and die by going to openings.
Despite garnering a lot of attention early on in your careers for your work in digital media, you’ve both turned toward painting in recent years. Have you influenced each other in that way?
Petra: Yeah, for sure. We’re definitely huge fans of color. I’ll actually come in and take pictures of his underpaintings—I take the textures and use them in my work. He gets so mad.
Marc: I like the cross-pollination. I think it’s very important, if you’re going to be in a relationship with another artist. I’ll ask her for advice when I’m working on something. There’s a painting of hers that’s in the upstairs hallway that I stare at when I wake up in the morning and it’s been a tremendous influence on me. I love seeing it every single day. I know that painting in and out now. We also share the same books and we’ll send each other a bunch of jokes all day long.
Petra: But we have pretty different working styles. You’re a planner. You like to talk about your work before you make it and look at other peoples’ work, too. I can’t talk to anyone. I just need total silence. I need to be by myself.
You two collaborated for a joint show at the BANK Gallery in Shanghai in 2018. Was that the first time you properly teamed up?
Petra: Actually, the first time we collaborated was for a Stella McCartney menswear video. I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go because we had never worked together, but it was fine. We had a good time doing it. We both come from a video background so it wasn’t that crazy.
Marc: She used her webcam and I used this old VHS camera.
Petra: My part took like five minutes; yours took forever.
Did the Shanghai show go that way too?
Petra: Yeah, I think so. I thought the paintings for the BANK show looked good together. We are not minimalists; we always have a lot of color in the work. That’s probably the biggest crossover between us—the palette. We both love color so much. It’s the thing I think that we enjoy talking about the most.
Marc, I was looking back at some coverage of you early on in your career. There were some interesting choices in the facial hair department. Especially the mustache—I really was struck by that. Petra, how do you feel about that mustache? Time for him to bring it back?
Marc: Oh my God.
Petra: So bad.
Marc: There were a lot of bad hair decisions—I had a mullet, a rat tail, a chin strap. I was out of control.
Petra: If I had met him then it would have been a hard pass.
Marc: The rat tail was my favorite, though. And I had a pseudonym that I worked under: Burt Dollot. Burt Dollot plus a rat tail was just—that was some shady, used-car-salesman stuff.
Petra: So creepy. But Marc is a nice guy, though. He’s really funny. He takes really good care of me.
Marc: And we have a hot tub at this house now!
Maybe future artist couples will meet there.
Petra: I hope so!
Marc: That would be amazing.
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