Julie Mehretu

There are a lot of decisions I have made conceptually before I start to paint. I've done research about what is going to go in the painting in terms of architectural information, color, narrative, concept and other stuff and then there is the development of the drawing in the painting. Painting, the making of it, is just a much more complex process, whereas the process of making a drawing is a fresh take; it's a very immediate thing.

Julie Mehretu packs a great deal of information into her work: Chinese calligraphy, Japanese ink drawings, graffiti, video games, news imagery, weather systems, maps, blueprints, and city plans are all raw material for her paintings, drawings, and prints. Mehretu is interested in (as she has written) “the role of an individual within a larger context.” Christopher Miles wrote in the September 2004 issue of Artforum that “Mehretu’s paintings play disturbingly against a backdrop of recent disasters such as 9/11 and the disintegration of the space shuttle. Hers is a world in which things fall apart, but also fall together.”

Julie Mehretu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1970. She attended the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar in Senegal before moving to Kalamazoo, Michigan where she earned a BA from Kalamazoo College. In 1997 she received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Printmaking, like drawing, is of serious interest to her. For Mehretu’s complex prints made at Crown Point Press in 2006 and 2008, she used multiple plates to layer many different processes over one another. Mehretu visited the Crown Point studio twice, in 2005 and 2008; in total, she created five etchings.

Mehretu is the recipient of many awards, including the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts (2015); the Berlin Prize at the American Academy, Berlin (2007); and the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2005). In 2005 she received a MacArthur Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited extensively in museums and is held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others. In 2004 her work was included in the Whitney Biennial and São Paolo Biennials, and she has had solo shows at the Saint Louis Art Museum; the Walker Art Center; the Detroit Institute of Art; the Kunstverein, Hanover, Germany; and the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark. Her 2010 show, Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, debuted at the Deutsche Guggenheim Museum in Berlin and traveled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In November 2019, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented the first-ever comprehensive survey of Mehretu’s work, uniting 40 works on paper with 35 paintings dating from 1996 to the present; it traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The High Museum, Atlanta; and the Walker Museum of Art, Minneapolis. In 2017, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned HOWL, eon (I, II) a permanent installation for its Haas, Jr. Atrium. Julie Mehretu is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. She lives and works in New York.

  • Julie Mehretu at Crown Point Press (2 minutes)

    Artist Julie Mehretu discusses her print project at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.

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