Mehretu, Julie (b. 1970). Grey Area. New York: Guggenheim, Published in 2010 and Executed in 2014. 11 x 9 in. ink on printed book.
With her expansive, layered canvases of deconstructed architecture that evoke destruction and chaos with their frenetic marks, fragmented lines and radial arcs, Julie Mehretu is one of the premier artists of the contemporary era. Widely acclaimed for her work’s provocative social and political commentary, Mehretu’s paintings raise questions about how the individual is influenced by the built environment, how the individual acts as a member of a larger community, and how the individual and their surroundings define one another through their interactions. Drawing from sources in the media and popular culture, Mehretu’s paintings chart a social and geographic landscape marked by strife and unrest. For the present work, she has taken the catalogue for Grey Area, a suite of paintings commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim museum, and filled its pages with bursts of her signature expressive marks in ink, which, applied wet, leave smudges and traces of the artist’s fingerprints on the paper.
These gestural dashes, scribbles and angles are one of the hallmarks of Mehretu’s paintings, and a motif that unites her body of work. She sees these marks as standing in for individual characters, invested with identity and social agency, and thinks of them as partaking in “bursts of cultural resistance amid the ebb and flow of systems and organic orders” (H. Zuckerman Jacobson, “Julie Mehretu: Found Rumblings of the Divine,” in Parkett, op. cit., p. 27). Meticulously created, some of Mehretu’s marks serve as the aggressors, while some are constructors, others have more universal implications, and still some serve as entry points into the narrative of her works. Explaining the markings’ role in her diagrammatic backgrounds and busy cities, Mehretu explains, “I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars,” (J. Mehretu, quoted in L. Firstenberg, “Painting Platform in NY,” Flash Art, Vol. 35, No. 227, November–December 2002, p. 70). These marks, therefore, represent additional characters that Mehretu has inserted into the narrative of her work, and Grey Area serves to renew and perpetuate the artist’s dialogue with contemporary culture.