I think it was the organic lemon yerba mate drawn from her extensive tea collection that got Katie Pretti and me on the topic of Buenos Aires. Having been charmed during two previous visits, Pretti returned to “the Paris of South America,” to complete a six week residency at Nigel Nolan’s broken down mansion in the neglected Constitucion area of the city last February.
After painting gallery white over his muraled walls, Nolan opened his doors to artists to “Come!” to the house and make art inspired by the luxe space within the notoriously decrepit neighbourhood as a sort of independent artistic social reform project. After six weeks of living in the city’s roughest neighbourhood, Pretti’s once idyllic notions of living touristic luxury within Buenos Aires were subsequently transformed into layers of negative emotions surrounded by nagging sensations of “white” guilt. She needn’t bask in it. Upon leaving the country with a hefty stash of her grand canvasses, Pretti was stung by bureaucratic corruption. In possession of paintings completed within Argentina, and without any sort of work or export permits, she was unable to bring them out of the country. She left without them, as well as any desire to return to the city.
The experience caused her to reflect on the “latent issues of ownership” she experiences after the creation of her work. Translating her emotions into large scale works she describes as “expressionist for lack of better terminology” she inevitably creates “this thing that you can buy.” As an artist, she muses on how hard it is to let go of pieces which embody specific moments in her own life. Pretti reflects on the point at which she ends and her work begins. She describes exhibitions as symbolic moments at which point the work no longer belongs to her.
A self-admitted sensation junky, Pretti endeavours to make emotionally evocative work. “I love making art. That someone sees something of value in these things that I make- that in itself is a moving concept.” She admits that it’s “cheesy” to say that she is working from her own sadness, “but what am I going to say?” While she says that she is not trying to use her work as a way to “get the emotions out,” she sees the works as translations of the vivid human sensations she feels. They are efforts to remove the step between her inner and outer worlds.
Using the title as a starting point, she tries to funnel the feelings evoked in the piece of text she has chosen (one of the pieces she spoke to me about, “Mother’s Sons” made reference to an old Portishead song) onto the surface using a collection of paint and drawing media. When describing her work she is more than hesitant to make reference to herself as a painter. “I have too much respect for painters” she says. “Using paint makes them paint-ings but that doesn’t make me a painter, a painter is a different kind of animal.”
Charming self-deprecation aside, not everyone is so critical of her creative abilities. Especially not Manny Neubacher, with whom Pretti is scheduled to have a show opening October 11. She ended up on the unnofficial roster at Neubacher Shor after meeting with his mother, Gerda Neubacher, the artist behind the Femme Art Collection. Already represented within the collection, Pretti decided to enlist Neubacher in her search for creative direction after she left the roster of Le Gallery. A moment during a casual coffee date turned into a scene of whirlwind spontaneity that one would expect to see in a movie about the life of an artist. Gerda insisted she return to Pretti’s studio to view her work and upon seeing it proclaimed it to be “fantastic yet scary” and promptly deposited the artist in the hands of her son.
The body of work that will be shown later this month is the culmination of Pretti’s recent artistic evolution during her travels over the last two years in Argentina, Europe, Los Angeles and a residency in Montreal. Having decided to reject an offer to do her Master’s of Art at London’s renowned Slade School of Fine Art, Pretti has been on a personal mission to push herself past her limits as an artist. While her current work definitely remains recognizable to her signature style, all her emotional digging seems to be evident in a dark dynamism that wasn’t there before.