Julie Mehretu is one the world's most exciting if not the most exciting modern artists. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1970 she started her artistic career in Senegal at the University of Cheik AntaDiop in Dakar at the beginning of the 90's and then moved to the States in the latter part of the decade to study a MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. She now resides in New York and is a well-respected and prominent figure within the artist community. Her background and influences from Africa have really left their mark on the artist's work. Those that have left the greatest imprint are the genuine forefathers of modern African art, artists such as the late Alexander Boghossian, better known as "Skunder", who sadly passed away in May 2003 last year and is dynamic interpretation of all thematerials around him and the brilliant slight pen strokes from the great Sudanese artist, who now lives in Oxford, England, Ibrahim El Salahi, alongside these men is the ever present soft, gentle and finebrushstroke work of Islamic calligraphy, all these elements have had avisually dramatic effect on Julie's artistic upbringing and visual alphabet.When a viewer sees her work they are almost invariably reminded of the artist of the 50's, Willem de Kooning and the Cobra Movement and more obviously, Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists.One simply stands in utter amazement recognising what it was, they were all desperately trying to say in the troubled years after the Second World War. Julie has answered all the questions and has gone the distance,some might even go as far as saying she is Post Abstract Expressionismbut regardless; she leaves no stone unturned and maps out the new way of seeing. It seems she has taken the ideas behind the works of Jackson Pollock and given them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, breathing new life and setting the colours, shapes and shadows free. Those that go to one of Exhibition's are surrounded by other viewers similarly astounded; all dumbfounded; open-mouthed and just nodding in agreement, amazement but mainly in approval.She has taken the viewer into another dimension and has seemingly taken a huge leap in terms of the development of modern art. All around one can almost hear the penny drop. Julie Mehretu has seemingly broken the DNA code to modern art. Once entering a room the viewer is absorbed into Julie's world. Her pictures are made up of layers. The initial layer is seemly a light pencil sketch but it is much more than that, it is closer to anarchitectural blueprint for the whole painting. She has combined so many elements into her work it is like looking into the artist's chaotic mind and being in it, then taking steps back from it and allthe while different images immerge and exciting thoughts run hazardly around one head. Julie takes the viewer on a personal tour of her mind and the viewer is drawn into the background having to ignore the foreground and the middle for just that instant, a moment to gather the thoughts and allowing the eyes to adjust. In focus, out of focus; looking at the sketch, then out of focus, looking at the busy middle and in focus and then looking again to the edges, out of focus and then in focus, purely dizzy with all the movement. To those that love art this is a feast rarely experienced. It is as if Julie has taken the onlooker to the fair and gently pushed them through the hall of mirrors on a roller coaster. Her understanding of colour is pure genius considerate with its use and how to apply it to maximum effect. Her wonderful appreciation of the primary colours of the reds and greens create a three dimensional quality coupled with blacks to create shape and movement and more importantly perspective. Playing on variants on this theme, orange and yellow give the depth of colour and the blues and black the overall definition. Julie Mehretu's work is unlike anything you have ever seen or likely to see. Simply put she is by far the best artistic fayre-ride in the world today.
Author: Joe Pollitt www.africanpainters.com
Julie talking on camera about printmaking.