Seeing is Believing

Julie Mehretu, Sun Ship, 2018

A Review of Julie Mehretu’s Exhibition “Sextant” at White Cube Mason’s Yard – 21 September to 3 November 2018

Following my gallery tour with the students of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, I was interested in learning more about the work of one of the artists we saw that day. The large-scale gestural paintings and etchings of Julie Mehretu demand a closer look to understand the elements that compose them. During the exhibition Sextant at White Cube Mason’s Yard which ran from 21 September to 3 November 2018, I had the opportunity to physically zoom in and out on each work. The immense detail and heroic scope of her work reminded me of the photographic images of Andreas Gursky which were exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in early 2018. The obvious difference being that every line on these canvases has been has relentlessly carved by hand, although sometimes by the hand of her skilled assistants.

Exhibition view of “Sextant” at White Cube Mason’s Yard

Long before she employed studio assistants, Mehretu developed her style of mark-making while at graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design. Over time, her pen marks develop from shapes looking like hieroglyphs to lines that were more calligraphic, and later detailed architectural drawings. In the layers of marks making up one of her finished works, it’s possible to squint your eyes and locate a reference to a figure or possibly a landscape, but that may be a random result generated from the sheer number of lines in each work.

Exhibition view of “Sextant” at White Cube Mason’s Yard

She often begins her work by choosing photographs from a current and politically-charged news event. She blurs these photos using Photoshop and uses the result as a starting point for her work. In the film “A Universal History of Everything and Nothing” she expresses her necessity to work in this type of visual language as she in unable to find the words to describe the uncertainty of our time. According to Mehretu, the political shift we are experiencing in the world right now cannot be described using the language of the past.

This process of selecting images from current new events and analysing the meaning through artistic creation is one that resonates with me. Scrutinizing images provides valuable time to think about the world and why things are the way they are. It gives one a reason to shut out the busy world and to try to live more consciously within it.

The full interview with Julie Mehretu from the White Cube Channel can be viewed at the link below:

“A Universal History of Everything and Nothing” featuring Julie Mehretu from White Cube Channel