'My aim is to have a picture that appears one way from a distance - almost like a cosmology, city or universe from afar - but then when you approach the work, the overall image shatters into numerous other pictures stories and events...My initial impulse and investigation was to try and develop, through drawing, a language that could communicate different types of narratives and build a cityscape, each mark having a character, a modus operandi of social behavior. As they continued to grow and develop in the drawing I wanted to see them layered; to build a different kind of dimension of space and time into the narratives.' (Julie Mehretu, 'Interview with David Binkley and Kinsey Katchka', March 28, 2003 reproduced at Africa.si.edu/exhibits/passages/mehretu-conversation.html.)
Part urban planning, part biblical apocalypse, Transients from 2006 is an extensive and heavily-worked fusion of painting and drawing that seems to unify the mathematical rigour and constructivist logic of a Le Corbusier-like vision with the graphic onslaught and apparent chaos of Leonardo's studies of the Deluge.
One of Julie Mehretu's rare paintings constructed from a series of forms drawn and later painted on a immaculate gesso ground, the work is the formal result of a meticulous and painstaking process of the consecutive layering of imagery, map and graphic mark. A multilayered combination of architectural drawing, improvised expression and compulsive doodling Transients is a seemingly multidimensional panorama held together by the artist's disciplined and unerring sense of structural logic, into a complex, dramatic but, ultimately holistic sense of epic landscape.
Like improvised maps of the contemporary mind, Mehretu's paintings seem, in this respect to also describe the complex and multivalent nature of contemporary urban experience. Fusing the graphic logic of architectural space with the energy and apparent irrationality of the spontaneously made mark Transients, as its name suggests, seems to describe a fleeting glimpse of a matrix-like landscape of thought, time and place. On account of their overt ambiguity, they have also been described as 'psychogeographies' exploring ideas about location and identity. Mehretu who was born in Addis Ababa and grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, and sees her work in this respect as being partly 'a self-ethnographic' project cutting through her 'lineage and ancestry in an effort to further understand the formation of my own identity.' (Julie Mehretu cited in Catherine de Zegher, Julie Mehretu: Drawings, New York, 2007, p. 23)