Maps are beautiful. The fusion of information, art and science creates a visual device for making sense of the world. Maps provide structure and so give confidence in the unknown, and it is this ability to bring order to chaos which many artists have translated metaphorically to narrate the imagination. Maps and data visualisation are two things that I really love, and this beautiful combination forms the subject of Cartograms - a delicious bit of vocabulary which is defined by ‘A presentation of statistical data in geographical distribution on a map’, yum. Although it’s not very sexy, this website, Worldmapper, which is full of pictorial distortions of the world informed by statistical data such as population, imports/exports, language and disease – it’s facinating. In this post, I’m going to share the work of some of my favourite creative cartographers, exploring their personal interpretation of the mapping process.
Cross dressing Turner Prize Winner, Grayson Perry, is arguably most famous for his ceramic vases – classic, Greek inspired structures, decorated with a cacophony of complex surface techniques to create designs with brash statements. His work is mostly biographical has many times used maps to communicate his thoughts and emotions. Perry’s ‘Map of Nowhere’ is intended to communicate his thoughts on the life and death – “I was playing with the idea of there being no Heaven. People are very wedded to the idea of a neat ending: our rational brains would love to tidy up the mess of the world and to have either Armageddon or Heaven at the end of our existence. But life doesn’t work like that – it’s a continuum.”
The piece, which was inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, adopts a traditional cartographic style that is enhanced by Perry’s printing process during which ink is left on the plate. The circular composition encompasses key elements of Perry’s personal world; such as his alter-ego, Claire, and expresses his opinions upon society and religion. You can use the zoomable map here to explore it in more detail.
BBC4’s 2011 Documentary ‘The Beauty of Maps” features Perry, among many other fascinating artists and cartographers, talking about his personal take on the idea of mapping belief –
Another one of his cartographic works, ‘The Map of an Englishman’ is an intricate illustration of an imaginary island as a visual metaphor for his own mind. Deeply personal and admirably honest, the map gives a true insight into the psyche and mindset of one of Britain’s most influential artists of our time. Within this work, Perry has cleverly manipulated the traditional components of a map to twist them into a metaphorical visualisation of his background, mental state and emotions – The brain shaped landmass features locations such as ‘Wishes’ ‘Sissy Wet Pants’ ‘Bitch’ and ‘Dreams’ all centred around a large dark patch of ‘Consciousness’ and surrounded by busy seas of ‘Schizophrenia’, ‘Delirium’ and ‘Anorexia Nervosa’.
There’s a great resource for seeing this map in more detail here.
“I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about the world from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. These are paintings of distortions.” Paula Scher
Paula Scher is a powerhouse for creativity and innovative designs – her ambition and ability to turn her hand to any task makes her work incredibly diverse and consistently fresh, and this cross disciplinary attitude to creativity is something that I find inspiringly admirable. In her series ‘The Maps’, Scher applies her design and typography skills to the art of cartography, thereby creating vivid colourful maps which give a personal and opinionated view upon regions and continents. The painstakingly intricate maps are bursting with names, numbers and information from within a clever composition that manipulates the size, direction and scale of the type to form in an impressionistic visualisation of her opinions. Although the maps may appear geographically accurate, Scher insists that “They’re all wrong, I mean, nothing’s in the right spot. I put in what I feel like. It’s my comment on information in general. We receive a lot of information all the time and mostly it’s lies or slight mistruths.”
Detail from ‘China’ 2006
There’s a great interview with Scher here in the Huffington Post, in whish she discusses this series. You can also hear more about Scher’s excitingly diverse career in her 2008 TEDTalk, where she looks back on her career so far and emphasises the importance of play in creativity –
“I love honesty. If you try to mislead your clients or your public, you’ll have to do it on your own. Projects for social causes and charity get a special treatment. In contrast to my artistic philosophy, I think design is the perfect tool for making the world a better place. And yes, that’s a moral quest.” Alphadesigner
“Mapping Stereotypes: The Ultimate Bigot’s Calendar of Europe” is a brave project which represents Europe through the eyes of, among others, the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, the Vatican and Bulgaria, as well as other factors such as penis size and dictatorships. As you can imagine, these maps are brutally opinionated, often rather insulting, always intriguing, but ultimately hilarious. I defy you not to laugh.
‘The World According to Americans’
‘European Penis size’
‘Europe According to Germans’
‘Europe According to the Vatican’
‘Europe According to Gay Men’