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Julie Mehretu

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Artist 221 Julie Mehretu Abstract Painting

Julie Mehretu (born in 1970) is an American contemporary visual artist, well known for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale.

Her paintings, drawings, and prints depict the cumulative effects of urban sociopolitical changes through the landscape's alteration of architecture, topography, and iconography.

Mehretu's canvases incorporate elements from technical drawings of a variety of urban buildings and linear illustrations of urban efficiency, including city grids and weather charts. The pieces do not contain any formal, consistent sense of depth, instead utilizing multiple points of view and perspective ratios to construct flattened re-imaginings of city life. Her drawings are similar to her paintings, with many layers forming complex, abstracted images of social interaction on the global scale.

Julie Mehretu's works engage us in a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience, a depiction of social behavior and the psychogeography of space. Culled from archival sources her paintings combine meticulous graphic drawing with spontaneous gesture.

Mehretu begins with the premise of architecture as a medium of social history and power and proceeds to imagine a new present, a fictional topography realized through a formal vocabulary of line, color, gesture, markings, grids, characters, swarms, blurs, washes, which are overlaid and stratified on the surface of the canvas.

Mehretu says, “I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place."

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