When I was at art school, one of my art history lecturers described herself as a cartomaniac. At the time I had to think for a moment about what she could mean, but as the lecture went on it became clearer, she had a love or at least a fascination for the world of maps. I can relate well to this. I too love a map.
It is the schematic representation of the world around us, everything so familiar, yet so different, the symbols, the lines and patterns, the place names. There is just so much. When I travel, a map is always a necessity, seeing where I am, what’s around me and where I can go. I, like most people have a small collection of maps from various holiday destinations I’ve visited over the years. But perhaps my favourite is actually one closer to home, it is a very Dutch map indeed and one showing the most interventionist approach to the real landscape. It shows the 32 kilometer long afsluitdijk.
There are artists enough who have made use of maps in their own work. I fully expect one day to make paintings and drawings based around this particular view of the landscape, but up until now the right ideas in the context of my own work have yet to present themselves.
The same isn’t true though amongst the adults that I teach. I have regularly set assignments that are hung up around travel be that walking, running or biking routes through the locality or journeys round the globe. My angle has often been to try and encourage the participants to try and break away from the conventions of map making, get away from the idea that the sea has to be blue and polar regions white, simplify forms, think about what ideas of content you can use to help dictate the way the painting goes.
Last night while I was doing this I was struck a change in how this sort of assignment is now approached. I used to show up with a pile of black and white photocopies of the world map as a jumping off point. Now though, the iPads and tablets come out and the world quite literally opens up. Last night one group member opened up GoogleEarth, scanned around a bit, for some reason decided to focus in on Timbuktu, zoomed right in on the grid formation of the streets and buildings of the city, and proceeded to set to work on an abstract painting based on these forms. It really was wonderful to see, the instantaneous nature of it all. My black and white photocopies seem like such a distant memory.