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. Yet despite her dense collections of systems and shapes, her works remain light and full of great, sweeping space. 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 and was raised in East Lansing, Michigan. She earned a B.A. from Kalamazoo College and an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design. During her junior year at Kalamazoo College, she attended the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar in Senegal. A solo exhibition in 2003 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was titled Drawing into Painting, as her painting process is deeply rooted in drawing: she suggests movement, such as expanding spaces, through her dynamic use of line. Printmaking, like drawing, is of serious interest to her. For her complex prints made at Crown Point Press in 2006 and 2008, she used multiple plates to layer many different processes over one another.

Mehretu was the recipient of the 2001 Penny McCall Award. In 2005 she received a MacArthur Fellowship and the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2007 she was awarded the Berlin Prize at the American Academy in Berlin. Her paintings are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2004 her work appeared at the Whitney Biennial and the São Paolo Biennial, and she has had solo shows at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Walker Art Center. In 2007 exhibitions of her work were mounted at the Detroit Institute of Art; the Kunstverein, Hanover, Germany; and the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark. In 2008 she had solo shows at Williams College Museum of Art, Massachusetts and the Kresge Art Museum at Michigan State University. 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.

Mehretu was awarded the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015 and the Liberty Award for Artistic Leadership in 2018. 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. Julie Mehretu is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. She lives and works in New York.

-Rachel Lyon, Crown Point Press

  • 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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