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Julie (Julie Mehretu)

Julie (Julie Mehretu)
inscribed 'J' (lower left); signed, titled and dated ‘Julie (Julie Mehretu) Elizabeth Peyton 2015’ (on the reverse)
oil on board
15 x 12in. (38.1 x 30.5cm.)
Painted in 2015
Gladstone Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Sale room notice
Please note that the full description of this lot should read: inscribed 'J' (lower left); signed, titled and dated ‘Julie (Julie Mehretu) Elizabeth Peyton 2015’ (on the reverse).

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Vice-Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Europe

Lot Essay

Painted in 2015, Julie (Julie Mehretu) is a powerful, luminous portrait by Elizabeth Peyton. The subject is Peyton’s fellow artist Julie Mehretu, who rose to acclaim in the early 2000s for her vast, geometric abstract works that conjure overlaid complexities of history and place: the two are near-contemporaries, and both work in New York. Joining the pantheon of pop icons, rockstars, friends and heroes who people Peyton’s oeuvre, Mehretu takes her place among a select company of female artists she has depicted, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Camille Claudel and Isa Genzken. Peyton captures Mehretu as a vision of poised intelligence, gazing directly out at the viewer. She grips what might be a bunch of leaves in her hand. Flashes of gold and inky shadows enrich her face, while other areas are more loosely worked, allowing light to break through from the bright white ground beneath. This radiance is typical of Peyton’s technique: she applies diluted oil paint to a painted ground that she has sanded glassy-smooth, creating pellucid, dappled washes of colour that glide across the surface. In deft, fluid strokes, Mehretu is made brilliantly present.

Peyton’s highly personal practice centres around the ways individuals change history, and zones in on the charged, evanescent moments when they become their truest selves. As she sees it, people are ‘the way the world moves, and they contain their time’ (E. Peyton, quoted in C. Tomkins, ‘The Artist of the Portrait’, New Yorker, 29 September 2008). Many of her works are based on found photographs, focusing on images mediated through history and the public eye: she rose to acclaim in the mid-1990s with an installation that juxtaposed idealised drawings of figures like Napoleon Bonaparte alongside pale, incandescent pictures of the recently-deceased Kurt Cobain. Later paintings like the present are often derived from Peyton’s own photographs, setting their subjects’ charisma in a more direct emotional key. Her depiction of Mehretu—composed, determined and fiercely self-aware—conveys her sitter’s personal magic with the keen sensitivity of one artist understanding another.

Born of far more than a devotion to celebrity, Peyton’s works traverse centuries to express an unironic fascination with people who define their moment, and who inspire her through their art. Her vision is achingly pure, and alive with a literary, almost romantic sensibility: working on an intimate scale, she believes that ‘little things are more powerful because they’re more honest, so people feel them more strongly’ (E. Peyton, quoted in J. Cocker, ‘Elizabeth Peyton’, Interview Magazine, 26 November 2008). Julie (Julie Mehretu) affirms this belief. Born of a moment of recognition between two great painters of our time, it seizes Mehretu’s essence with gem-like clarity.

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