Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, monumental painter and draughtswoman Julie Mehretu (1970) combines the vocabulary of cartography, architecture, and abstraction to suggest the density and complexity of the social, human world. A winner of the Berlin Prize, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award, and the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Mehretu lives and works in both Berlin and New York.
“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.” —Julie Mehretu, as quoted by Laurie Firstenberg, “Painting Platform in NY,” Flash Art Vol. XXXV No. 227, November/December 2002, p. 70.
“I wanted to bring nationalist signage, sports signage, street signage and conflate them into one abstract language” —Julie Mehretu, speaking about the Stadia series. Mehretu, Julie, Douglas Fogle, Olukemi Ilesanmi, and Walker Art Center. 2003. Julie Mehretu : Drawing into painting. 1st ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Walker Art Center.
“The characters, now, instead of being all these different kinds of little individual agents, have become more like swarms. Before I was interested in how these individual agents would come together and create a whole and affect some kind of change. Now it’s also, how did these bigger events happen by the gathering of all these marks? What [are] the phenomena being created by these massive changes in the painting?” —Mehretu, Julie, Douglas Fogle, Olukemi Ilesanmi, and Walker Art Center. 2003. Julie Mehretu : Drawing into painting. 1st ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Walker Art Center.