3 July – 14 September 2002
Julie Mehretu makes large-scale, ultra dynamic paintings built up on canvas through a complicated series of acrylic layers overlaid with explorative, frenetic mark-making: a combination of delicate, almost filigree ink lines and thick, streams of coloured paint.
Mehretu’s main source of subject matter is the city and its architecture, and more particularly, the dense, accelerated and compressed urban environments of the present century. Her canvases, including Renegade Delirium (2002), overlay different architectural features and geographical elements—columns, porticoes, building plans, city maps—that are all seen from many viewpoints: aerial, isometric and cross-section. Mixed together, these fragments form imploded and chaotic images that seem driven by an internal force, their explosive lines of colour and urgent marks spreading over the canvas from a central, energetic core. Any notion of scale or perspective is lost, leaving the viewer confronted by a semi-abstract picture that incorporates a confounding series of transparent strata: a kind of unpeeling of the layers that make-up a city itself, a way of travelling through time, of experiencing different historical moments all at once.
The artist has lived in Ethiopia, Michigan, Texas, and in New York, but despite her personal experience of different cities, she sees her work as more experiential than location-specific, describing her canvases as ‘story maps of no location’. In this sense, the artist’s work relates more to the viewer’s imagination than to any definable reality. Seen through its cacophony of images it represents the speed of the modern city itself. As Laura Hoptman has commented: Mehretu’s works ‘are hybrids of all those cities that we have inculcated, whether by actual contact or by second-hand experience through television, film or books, as well as hybrids of all those cities we have yet to absorb.’