Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press
Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press
Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press
Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press
Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press
Julie Mehretu, ‘Poetry of Sappho’, 2011, Arion Press

Sappho is the supreme lyric poet of antiquity. Celebrated by Plato as the “Tenth Muse”, she left a literary monument comparable to the other precious ruins of the ancient world. As with its time-scarred architecture, mutilated statues, and partial inscriptions, what remains of her poems are fragments of a vanished whole, and all the more resonant for being so. The only woman whose poetry has come down to us from antiquity, Sappho wrote more than two and a half millennia ago, a century after Homer, but before the great age of Greek drama and philosophy. Her subject is not war and the state, but individual emotion and the enjoyment of beauty, expressed in unforgettable images. The theme of lost civilizations implicit in Sappho made the ancient Greek poet a fruitful subject for artist Julie Mehretu.

Published by the Arion Press, this book contains 20 double-page Mehretu prints in black and white printed from polymer plates. On the title page, introduction, and colophon are 23 wood engravings cut by Anita Cowles Rearden in the 1880s, intended as illustrations for a book on Sappho and Alcaeus by her husband Judge Timothy Rearden, now printed for the first time (at the time the book went unpublished due to the author’s unexpected death). All printing is by letterpress.

The introduction was set in 12-point Garamont Monotype. The English translations were handset in 18-point Garamont. Garamont is a type by the prolific American designer Frederic W. Goudy, based on the sixteenth-century Garamond rendered in the later style of Jannon and more recent French versions. The Greek was composed on computer in digital Adobe Garamond Greek type, printed from polymer plates.

The paper is Revere, an Italian mould-made sheet, 250 grams per square meter. The sections are hand-sewn with linen thread over vellum tapes that are laced through the joints of the spine, which is also of vellum, stamped in gold with the poet’s name. The boards are covered with a fine binding cloth manufactured in Germany, of a light green color, imprinted with a portion of an image from the extra suite of prints in darker green. The book is presented in a cloth and paper covered slipcase with spine stamping similar to the book’s.

Series: The first 40 copies in this edition of 400 may be purchased with the suite of larger prints, "Sapphic Strophes"

Signature: Signed by the artist in the colophon in the back of the book.

About Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu’s work is about layers: the physical layering of images, marks, and mediums, and the figurative layering of time, space, place, and history. Working in a large scale, Mehretu draws on the 21st-century city for inspiration, transferring its energy into her gestural sweeps of paint and built-up marks in ink and pencil—often transposed from projections—and condensing seemingly infinite urban narratives, architectural views, and street plans into single unified compositions. “The narratives come together to create this overall picture that you see from the distance,” she says. “As you come close to it […] the big picture completely shatters and there are these numerous small narratives happening.” Mehretu layers a range of influences and art historical references as well, from the dynamism espoused by the Futurists, to the scale and physicality of Abstract Expressionism, to the divergent markmaking of Albrecht Dürer, Eastern calligraphy, and graffiti. Mehretu was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005.

Ethiopian-American, b. 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, based in New York, New York