Julie Mehretu

Myriads, Only By Dark (2014)

Multi-colored aquatint and spit bite on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching 450gsm
81-1/4 x 45-1/4 inches (each)

The Star in Frisco

In this four-part piece, Julie Mehretu paints a picture of herself. She does so without using paint or realistic imagery, aside from a few handprints. Known for abstract canvases packed with energized marks and gestures, Mehretu portrays herself in that style—as a swirling force-field of energy that expands and contracts as time passes—but not with that medium, choosing printmaking, rather than the materials she is most familiar with (graphite, ink, and acrylic on canvas) to depict herself. The result is a type of self-portraiture that captures the complexity of modern identity.

By portraying herself in the style she has worked in for nearly twenty-five years, Mehretu suggests that her self is best seen in her art, in the tautly composed tornadoes of strokes, slashes, and symbols that form her works on canvas, whose predominantly horizontal format gives them the presence of abstract landscapes. In choosing to make aquatints, however, Mehretu suggests that painting is too public—and too formal—a medium for the face-to-face intimacy of self-portraiture.

That conflict, between the faces we show the world and the faces we keep to ourselves, takes stunning shape in this suite of prints, collectively titled “Myriads, Only By Dark” and individually identified, from left to right, with subtitles in parentheses: “unfolded body map,” “mathematics of droves,” “indigene,” and “origin.” The back-and-forth between fitting in and standing out, between familiarity and otherness, resonates against Mehretu’s background. Born in Ethiopia, she immigrated to the United States when she was seven and her family was forced to flee. Educated in Michigan, Rhode Island, and Dakar, Senegal, she now lives in New York, where she makes art in which we all might see ourselves—in ways we haven’t seen ourselves before.

Return to Collection