In the Style of Julie Mehretu: Layered Images

In the style of Julie Mehretu,  by

Paintings by May (7) and Nora (5)

Over the course of 4 lessons, Nora, May, and I studied the work of Julie Mehretu, disseminated all the layers, and made these (beautiful!) layered homages. The photos really don’t do them justice–the girls made the layers on different sheets of contact paper, so when you see them in person there are actual physical layers that separate each section. They are really, really cool.

We started by watching the Art21 video of Julie Mehretu discussing her work. I wanted to show the girls this so that they would have a really accurate, and visual, idea of how she made the different layers in her work, as well as understand how HUGE these things are.

Julie Mehretu, Black City

After the film, we discussed how her work is often place based, but she abstracts the places so that they become largely unrecognizable. What is left is an emotional response to a place, as well as telling details that help to root the image. Each layer depicts the location in a completely different manner from the layer previous.

So, I had the girls choose an actual location to depict. May chose Times Square, and Nora chose the playground across the street (*grin).

First, we made the background. We looked at how in a lot of Mehretu’s images she has muted swaths of color in the background:

I asked them what colors represented their place to them, and they used those colors to paint their own watercolored background:

Background Watercolor

Background Watercolor

The next day, I had them draw a picture of the place they were depicting, from memory. I told them not to include very many details, that we were primarily interested in shapes.

Beginning of a drawing of Nora's playground

Beginning of a drawing of Nora’s playground

We looked at the blocks of color that Mehretu often has in her work:

The girls cut out the shapes from their drawing, then taped them down in a different, abstract, order on a sheet of contact paper, using Mehretu’s work as a guide.




Removed the tape:


And put the contact paper on top of the background:


The following week I brought in a book of Mehretu’s that had her series ‘Gray Matter’ in it. In this series, she focuses on post-war Berlin, and many of the images have realistic details scattered within.

So, for our next layer I had them draw a non-abstract picture of their location with sharpie on contact paper, then placed it on as we did the previous layer. I totally neglected to get a picture of this on its own, BUT it’s visible in the next stage’s photos.

For the final layer, we used a plexi-glass board, and we focused on maps. .

I brought over subway maps, put them under the plexi, and asked them to choose different roads and subway lines that they wanted to to depict on the final image. They used cardstock to make a straight line on either side, then painted the middle.



Nora got a little bored with this, so she began outlining shapes on the map, which was fine, too.


And that was the last layer! The final, super amazing super awesome pieces:


Nora, ‘Playground’


May, ‘Times Square’

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