Julie Mehretu is used to working on enormous pieces of art. This international star is one of the world’s top-selling living female artists and it isn’t surprising. In 2009, Mehretu took on a commissioned at the lobby of Goldman Sachs. “Murals” measured 23 feet x 80 feet and was deemed as one of the most ambitions paintings in years.
This graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design has always layered her canvases with diagrams as an initial starting point. Such was the beginning for Mehretu’s newest commission which she slaved over at an unused Harlem church right down the street from where she lives with her family. Finally, Mehretu had found the place she was searching for… a space large enough to temporarily house her large-scale paintings. Prior to starting Mehretu needed to reach a deal with real estate developers to use the church… although we find it hard to believe that anyone could have said “no” once they recognized the ambitious project about be embarked upon. Two enormous canvases, each 27 feet by 32 feet, stretch and force Mehretu to “soar” midair on a moving platform as she performs her magic.
Mehretu says that 80% of the marks she puts down, she erases. The accumulation of strokes and eraser marks is what gives her work so much depth. Both physically and mentally demanding, Mehretu has been working on these two canvases since November. Just recently, her paintings were installed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s atrium where they’ll remain for at least three years. Everyone will have plenty of time to visit them… and everybody should!
Perhaps it its her worldly upbringing that give Mehretu so much perspective? Born in Ethiopia, raised in Michigan and now living in NYC, she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award at just 34. Mehretu’s paintings are always somewhat politically charged and reflect contemporary life as we know it.
The mural at the Goldman Sachs lobby is visible from the street, although only Goldman Sachs employees and guests can see the mural up close.
In Aether (Venice) Mehretu uses some of the Italian Futurists’ methods. As in this “highly worked” canvas, she uses abstract images of cities, wars, and “histories”. Usually painting some sort of architecture, it’s the intensity populated areas of the 21st century that intrigue Mehretu.
Julie Mehretu started HOWL, eon (I, II), the two canvases unveiled just last weekend, in the days prior to the November 2016 election. The layer after layer of transparent paint displays a plethora of visceral information.
It’s important to note that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gave no guidelines or criteria regarding what their commissioned piece should be all about. And Mehretu gave SFMoMA gave no away no information regarding her “plan”. As you can imagine, this was an extremely courageous step for an institution to take. Bravo!