Painter Julie Mehretu’s Intellectual Ambitions — Wall Street Journal

A new retrospective in November at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art traces Julie Mehretu’s career creating epic, lyrical works that are literally ripped from the headlines. (Photo: Julie Mehretu in her Chelsea, New York, studio in front of Of Other Planes of There (S.R.), 2018–2019. PHOTO: CLEMENT PASCAL FOR WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal

There are few artists who follow the news as closely as the painter Julie Mehretu does, and fewer still who directly mine it for their work. But not all viewers of her immense abstract pieces realize it.

“Usually it’ll be something like an earworm—it doesn’t leave you alone,” says Mehretu, 48, of the events that infuse her canvases. The California fires of 2017, for instance, formed the foundation of the bright-orange work Hineni (E. 3:4) (2018), a canvas that, like many of her works, is densely packed with shapes, forms and marks.

Mehretu works with her assistants to digitally manipulate news photos of these scenes. Then an assistant airbrushes the heavily distorted image onto a canvas as a beginning gesture—Mehretu calls it “melting” the image onto the canvas.

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