THEMATIC: Addition and Subtraction


"Easy Dark," 2007. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 108 x 72 inches. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Collection, Denmark. Photo by Steven Gerlich. © Julie Mehretu. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery.

Creating a work of art can include additive techniques (building up layers of marks, paint, or materials) and subtractive methods (erasing, removing, or hiding elements that compose the work). Julie Mehretu often adds and removes visual information as she creates her drawings and paintings. The artist refers to elements of mapping, architecture, and atmosphere in her artworks. In her Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Mehretu discusses how she constructs her artworks, adding and subtracting layers of abstracted imagery. Watch Mehretu's segment, and discuss how she adds, layers, or erases information, and to what visual effect.

Compare Julie Mehretu's working process to the methods of other artists, including: William Kentridge, Florian Maier-Aichen, and Mark Bradford.


SEGMENT: Julie Mehretu in "Systems"

Before Viewing
How can the process of drawing and painting, like sculpture, be both additive and subtractive?

While Viewing
What roles do Mehretu's assistants play in the process of creating her work? What contributions do they make to the work?

Julie Mehretu describes the process of making a series of paintings. She states: "Many parts of the drawing will also be erased. So, the paintings will build up, and then a big portion of them, somehow or another, will disappear. So then, hopefully, the paintings will also just interact, to talk about disintegration."

How do artists use strategies of erasure and concealment in their work, and to what effect? Can absence be as compelling as presence? How?

After Viewing
Mehretu talks about a work that is supposed to map a history of capitalism and economic development in relation to its location in Lower Manhattan. What might this history include? How can the artist incorporate these ideas in one painting?

Julie Mehretu describes the process of making a series of paintings. She states: "Many parts of the drawing will also be erased. So, the paintings will build up, and then a big portion of them, somehow or another, will disappear. So then, hopefully, the paintings will also just interact, to talk about disintegration."

How do artists use strategies of erasure and concealment in their work, and to what effect? Can absence be as compelling as presence? How?

Create
Create a drawing that incorporates both additive and subtractive marks, as a way to represent the transformations of a particular room, public space, or element in nature, over time.