Artist profile

Julie Mehretu

Author: Catherine de Zegher

Author: Catherine de Zegher


Julie Mehretu isan American artist who was born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied at University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar (1990–91), earned a BA from Kalamazoo College, Michigan (1992), and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence (1997). She lives and works in New York City, NY and Berlin, Germany.

Julie Mehretu creates extremely large-scale acrylic paintings that refer to elements of architecture and mapping. Her work is often epic in proportions, with some pieces being as large as of 21 by 85 feet on canvas. The paintings are visually stunning, full of movement and an energy that seems to erupt and explode outward from a centrifugal force. These paintings are built using multiple layers of drawing with ink, pencil and acrylic paint. She pushes the boundaries between painting and drawing with her highly inventive and unique vocabulary of mark making. Swirling, flowing, erratic, combustible, bursting, choppy, staccato like marks, lines and symbols populate her work.

The focus and evolution of her studio practice comes from the language of drawing. In 1995 while in art school, Julie developed a personal visual language -- a system of marks and symbols that she uses in her work to this day.  She describes her visual language as an exploration that “goes back to the cellular level where language comes from” Laying down her individual marks in an indexical fashion, she reduced and deciphered the process until her glyph like forms became notational. Different artistic influences in her development are the Russian Constructivists, Kazimir Malevich, the Italian Futurists and Wassily Kandsinsky.  J.M.W. Turner’s skies and the atmosphere that he created in his paintings inspire her to paint forces like she senses in his work.

Julie’s rich vocabulary of symbols and glyphs remind me of the marks and lines in the etchings of Rembrandt. Mehretu’s mark making is also influenced by her experience with printmaking and Chinese calligraphy. She is also inspired by graffiti, video games and Japanese manga cartoons.

Julie recognized that one individual mark has a sense of power or social agency She describes: "the hand and mark create a ‘behaviour’ and that groups of similar marks can shift the surface of a picture by its behaviour depending on how they are drawn” for example: aggressive or passive; some groups or communities operate with one another or become devoured by each other. She feels her marks take on characteristics and in turn calls them “characters”. These characters and clusters of marks then needed a place to inhabit where they could behave, retaliate, be self-deterministic or battle with each other.

Looking to outside references, Mehretu typically begins a painting by layering her favoured source materials which usually consists of  detailed architectural plans or city maps. Her sources often incorporate schematic depictions of modern, historic or ancient buildings such as stadiums, military and industrial complexes, public spaces, airports, and financial institutions.

Julie creates these “story maps of no location” by projecting some of these references onto her support, using technical pens and rulers to trace them onto the ground. The work is preconceived and intentional. The drawing process references techniques of precision drawing by using a hard-edged geometric style. Mehretu uses Cartesian analysis throughout the research process in order to make sense of the invented places that create a context for her ‘characters’ to invade. At different points, she applies an acrylic and silica mixture which is painted and sanded smooth to create a translucent veil, which allows her to embed the drawn marks beneath creating a spatial depth.

Successive drawings traced become more abstracted through this multiple layering process. This additive and subtractive method is a transformative process that symbolizes change over history and in the painting itself. The top layer contains her painted language, which is applied loose and gestural; her calligraphic marks are painted with brush and ink through an intuitive organic process. Colour is referenced from the code colours on maps and culturally codified colours such as flags.

Mehretu’s paintings ‘depict social concerns of power, history and globalism layered with her own narrative of place, space and time that impact the formation of personal and communal identity’.

Paintings of the last few years include what she calls a ‘third space,’which emerges from the collision of the architectural drawings, her mark making and through repeated erasure. She metaphorically describes this third space “as the ruin or the un-building of space - a hybrid identity, an area of the sublime”. Mehretu describes all of these moments as being mashed together where a new potential emerges.

Julie’s central focus is always on the drawing process. She tries to understand her work through drawing; it is her point of entry and departure. Drawing is the backbone language of her practice, it informs and supports everything else in her work.  Written by Jill Ehlert

For more information on Julie:

PBS   Video: Art21   - This is a great video as are all the artist videos at this website

Audio interview from British Museum with Tim Marlowe and Julie Mehretu in conjunction with the show "Picasso to Julie Mehretu" modern drawings from the British Museum collection. 

Magazine Interview with Julie Mehretu and Lawrence Chua at

Art in America/November 2010 - article by Eleanor Heartney "Invisible Networks"

Check out Julie's work on Google Images

Mark Hobson

A lecture and demonstration by Mark Hobson was the main event for the first evening of our artist retreat. Mark gave a talk on his early life teaching science at Shawnigan Lake School and how he got to painting full-time and living in Tofino, BC on a float home. Mark gave a great demonstration on mixing ocean blue-greens and advice on how to paint underwater scenes especially of seaweeds. Our big group of 44 was divided into 4 groups and I was lucky enough to have Mark in our group. Mark is full of joy and he happily shared his knowledge of the natural world. He is a really nice person with a big heart, who was always jolly -- he was a lot of fun to be around. 

On our way to Grappler Inlet

Mark Hobson is based in Tofino BC., on the outer west coast of Vancouver Island where he has painted for over twenty years. A diverse artist in both subject and media, he is equally comfortable in watercolour, oils, and acrylics. Mark is best known for his passionate portrayals of the B.C. coast, from pounding surf to sheltered cove; from rainforests to the underwater realm. The richness of the natural environment and its wildlife comes alive in his work. Professionally trained as a biologist, he taught high school science for nine years before painting as a career. Self-taught as an artist, his paintings are simultaneously accurate and sensitive depictions of the many moods of wilderness and rural landscapes.

Mark painting in the Rix Centre

Mark painting in the Rix Centre

Mark Hobson "Green Point Rocks: Long Beach"

Mark Hobson "Green Point Rocks: Long Beach"

Mark Hobson "China Rockfish"

Mark Hobson "China Rockfish"

Mark Hobson "Sea Otters Return"

Mark Hobson "Sea Otters Return"




Drinking blue-greens

Diana Lynn Thompson

Installation Artist

Drinking blue-geens installation 2007 

Diana Lynn Thompson is an installation artist who works with ephemeral moments, accumulated objects, collected stories and insertion/intervention strategies, which she documents in video and photographs.

She took her BFA at the University of Victoria.

Her works have been exhibited, performed and installed

nationally and internationally.

In the 1980’s Diana worked as a park naturalist and botanical illustrator. This background in- and deep love for - biology influences her work, which integrates scientific methodology with a poetic sense of wonder.

She has been known to count every leaf on five trees, patiently collect and pin thousands of pine needles onto

a gallery wall, and distribute 25,000 shaped pieces of shell to people around the world.  She has hand-made and numberedthousands of ceramic stones which she then permanently placed on an eroding beach, and stitched and hung over 8000 brilliant autumn leaves at the SOFA Gallery in Bloomington, Indiana. Currently

she is painting and stringing millions of wooden beads for her ongoing project on cyanobacteria.

Check out her website for many other mind-boggling installation works that she has created. All this written info is from her website.