Samantha Perry

Maps as Art: Collages, Clothing and Culture

Samantha Perry

A lot of my early memories seem to take place in the car with me sitting in the backseat with my siblings. We always had a stack of maps with us in the car, usually tucked into the pockets behind the seats or on the floor beneath our feet. During family trips, I loved looking through the maps and tracing my fingers along the outline of the coast or over the serpentine curve of roads that stretched out across the page. To me, the maps I looked through on these trips played just an important role as the memories I made with my family during our adventures.

Even though our relationship with maps might be changing in the digital age, artists are still finding ways to incorporate maps in their work. You can easily spend hours losing yourself down a rabbit hole of map-themed art, including those that specifically use old maps as a medium. Some are collages of maps that create peoples’ faces, others are ghost-like sculptures of bodies made out of pages of rivers and roads. One artist, Elisabeth Lecourt, even makes clothing out of maps!

Other artists enjoy putting a graphic twist on maps. A common cartographic interpretation features typography. Artists like Nancy McCabe strip out everything but the continental outlines of world maps, and fill the “land” proportionately with text in a variety of typefaces, colors and font sizes. Some of these font maps have country and city names sized by area or population, others create the land with keywords that apply to the area.

Some other great examples of map art can be found on the website Mapping London. I spent four months living in London during my junior year of college, so looking at these maps brings back a lot of great memories! The website includes hundreds of different renderings of maps of the London Underground (“the Tube”), a map of ghost story locations in a Pac-Man layout, a map of the different greetings from the many prevalent languages used in the city and a map detailing the olfactory level of each street. The street I lived on was pretty stinky according to this map! 

Did You Know?
There are 270 Tube stations, each of which inspired a graphic design by artist Mark Wallinger. Labyrinth is a collection of maze-like maps rendered in minimalistic black, white and red graphics. Each stations’ unique labyrinth has a red X to mark your starting position at the entrance of the Tube station, and you are encouraged to trace the path that represents your journey.

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