Luke Siemens is a working artist and a recent graduate with a BFA from the U of S. Herein he discusses the work and influence of Julie Mehretu, an established artist whose depictions of mind-melding explosions have considerably affected him in terms of inspiration and the subjects in his own work.
The Sheaf: Where did you first come across Mehretu’s work?
Luke Siemens: I found it in Phaidon’s Vitamin D: New perspectives in Drawing, then I went and saw her work in the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York.
When I saw them in the book I was captivated by the organic, explosive style. But it wasn’t until I was in New York that I could fully appreciate the way the layers were built up, which is probably the most important part about her work; it makes her paintings about history, a different history.
She is from Ethiopia but she lives and works in the States. As we enter a more global world that sort of layered background is more common. What makes her work is that it’s firmly set within art history, drawing on the likes of Pollock or Kandinsky but it is fully 21st century at the same time.
I take the historic connection and the levels of identity that exist within her work, but I also can’t look at it without seeing digital culture and the Internet — that’s my own take — the layering of websites and the shrinking of space, both in distance, travelling from one country to another, and cultural meeting space being condensed.
Sheaf: How would you define Mehretu’s style?
Siemens: Julie’s work is drawing based, involving lines. It records motion; it records the artist’s hand but it combines that process with painting through the use of layers of see-through resin. Her work looks like a tangled mass or an explosion.
She will start with a line-drawing of architecture and warp it to fit her means, then she will cover the canvas with a layer of see-through resin and draw her next layer on top of it.
Sheaf: Is that a popular technique?
Siemens: Her technique is unique in the sense that it highlights how a drawing is made and combines it with how a painting is made. It has the line and motion of a drawing and the layers and history of a painting.
Sheaf: Would you say that her style has influenced your style?
Siemens: I have certainly taken her tangled mass composition to heart and used that organic shape within my drawings.
Sheaf: How does your style differ from Mehretu’s?
Siemens: I use more representational imagery. My work isn’t as abstracted. I work in graphite right now. I have more of a focus on things like disasters — disasters and the use of structure as a metaphor for the cultural whole.