The Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu has been known to create works so large and so ambitious that she must rent out gargantuan spaces just to contain them while she works. When she was preparing her massive diptych unveiled in the lobby of the San Francisco Museum of Art in 2017, she set up a makeshift studio in a Gothic-style church in Harlem—the only space with ceilings tall enough to contain it. And back when she was developing a commission for Goldman Sachs in 2009, a 21-by-85-foot-long mural, she rented out a temporary Berlin-based studio to complete the job. That’s when she conducted an exclusive interview with Art21, in which she explains that her abstract-seeming compositions in fact contain embedded references to architecture and map-making. With the help of her assistants, Mehretu creates diagrammatic compositions that are rooted in data ranging from weather systems to architecture to topography—and are plotted from various points of perspective so that the resulting image doesn’t conform to any structure in particular. “My earlier drawings and paintings had this map-like element to them,” she explains in the video, which was filmed as part of the Art in the Twenty-First Century series on PBS. As her practice evolved, though, she says she “refrained from trying to explain what’s going on… I’m not trying to spell out a story.” Instead, she wanted viewers to have a more visceral reaction to the works, which she constructed by applying layers upon layers of shapes and lines precisely to the surface. ‘I’m Not Trying to Spell Out a Story’: Watch How Artist Julie Mehretu Uses Massive Scale and Complex Layers to Create Paintings You Get Lost In I don't see all that. It's cool that the map like element is there.