Gallery visit. Julie Mehretu, Serralves, Porto, Portugal

On holiday in Porto, I was delighted to find the contemporary art gallery Serralves had a major exhibition of work by Julie Mehretu whose work I enjoyed seeing as part of a study visit at Tate Modern last year.

I find her massive canvases intriguing with a combination of architectural-style drawing,  vigorous mark-making and controlled use of colour. These are layered with thinly applied acrylic paint creating a depth of impressions.

It is not obvious what all the marks mean to the artist. In Venice (fig. 1a & b) The architecture of Venice lends itself to the repetition of ornate structures especially windows which gives an impression of the overwhelming nature of being in the city.

Fig. 1a Venice (with figure for scale). Ink and acrylic
Fig. 1b. Venice (detail). Ink and acrylic.

In Plovers Wing (fig. 2a & b) The architectural drawing is there but more abstract and is combined with beautiful, mysterious, coloured shapes. Do the shapes describe the movement of the wing in the title?

Fig. 2a. Plovers Wing. Ink and acrylic.
Fig. 2b. Plovers Wing. (Detail). Ink and acrylic.

While researching online to find out more about the artist I was interested to read an article in The Guardian by Brian Dillon from 2009 which describes Mehretu’s use of studio assistants who transfer the drawings – which are abstracted from photographs – onto canvases. Looking at the canvases you marvel at the detail combined with the overall impact.

A canvas where mark-making comes to the fore is Mumbo Jumbo (Fig. 3a & b). Shoals of ink marks make their way across the colourful canvas. The architectural drawing is hinted at but is not as prominent as in other canvases.

Fig. 3a. Mumbo Jumbo. Ink and acrylic.
Fig. 3b. Mumbo Jumbo (detail). Ink and acrylic.

Mehretu’s drawing/paintings work from a distance and in detail.  They seem coherent and accomplished on every level.


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