If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question….
I have always incorporated old maps into my mixed media work. in 2001 I started making pieces that were exclusively made of maps. People are always curious about my “obsession” with maps. I just like maps. Well no, I love them. It’s a simple answer, and I find that anyone else into maps usually just nods with approval.
Below are some details about my relationship with maps.
How long has this been going on?
Even as a child, I was attracted to maps. It’s hard to remember a time when I did not own an atlas. I could spend hours at the library looking at the collection of atlases. Even my interest in history is connected to maps. By the time I was eight I began drawing imaginary maps. I spent hours of leisure time through my teens drawing imaginary maps.
It’s hard to say where this interest in maps originates. I am definitely a spatially oriented person. I have an innate sense of direction yet am terrible when it comes to remembering names and faces. My spatial memory is quite strong. For example, I could draw an accurate floor plan of the apartment I lived in between ages two and four.
There is a natural relationship between maps and travel and I have always been drawn to travel. Before I had the opportunity to extensively travel, I travelled through maps. One might even say I approached maps as works of conceptual art.
What are some of the reasons you like using maps in art?
There are a number of ideas that emerge in my work and there are some basic reasons that I prefer maps as a medium:
- I like the “control” of the work when I exclusively use maps as a collage source.
- I like using the places on the maps for their symbolic significance. Many times I choose specific places in a piece.
- The recycled/repurposing nature of using old maps has a great deal of appeal. Often maps, particularly road maps, can be infused with a great deal of energy from the previous users.
- The impermanence of the information on maps fascinates me. Names change, borders move, small towns disappear or get swallowed up by bigger towns, small towns become cities in a matter of a decade or two. And even the physical features are not permanent. Rivers dry up, coasts erode, volcanoes blow their tops. When I use an out-of-date map in a work of art, I am taking that former-reality and giving it a permanent place in time.
- There are universal and similar patterns that appear in traditional art throughout the world. I use maps to express the patterns in an alternate medium. Many of the patterns I use in my work are influenced by and can be found in the art of different and diverse cultures around the world. I have been influenced by everything from American Quilts to Japanese Textiles to Native American Rugs. Some of my pieces are non-traditional mandalas.
- Working with maps in the way that I do is personally very beneficial. The reaction that I usually hear, is that my works of art are very calming. Personally, my entire creation process can often be a very calming and centering experience for myself. Preparing and cutting then gluing down one small piece after another is, at times, nearly trance inducing.
I continue to create map-based work and am exploring new patterns and configurations. This year I also am working on an ongoing piece called the 2011 Project. Many of the mixed media pieces include maps. The project is also giving me an opportunity to experiment with new media beyond maps including vintage postcards, photos and other ephemera. Examples of my map work can be seen on my site, tofuart.com