Mapping My Story- Why Maps?

Its funny how ideas emerge. People often ask me why I draw maps, and I feel like this body of work has always been there, bubbling underneath the surface, waiting to be created. It emerged slowly, like a undercurrent rippling through my life. I remember back to being a teenager and enjoying being the navigator on road trips. I always liked looking at the road map more than I liked looking at the road. In fact, I still have a strong dislike for driving and I can't remember street names to save my life. But, I can tell you that Union Square in Somerville is shaped like a bow-tie and the Boston peninsula resembles the shape of the human heart.

I had a few friends in graduate school who worked with maps and at the time I remember being interested in the idea, but it wasn't something I was actively pursuing. Graduate school was one of the best times of my life and I remember having conversations with friends, colleagues and professors about how location can be represented through imagery.

While my thesis work was not directly associated with maps, it was based on how your place on the globe influences your worldview, attitude even physical health. In fact, the title of my thesis had the word "Location" in it and the entire body of work (as seen above) addressed how living in a particular place can change and alter both your mental and physical being.

Graduating with a visual arts degree in a recession isn't exactly the most ideal situation and I have worked for various organizations trying to find my career path. A few years ago, I took several classes towards a second Masters degree in Urban Planning. Unfortunately, I didn't finish the degree, but I did find a huge amount of inspiration in the drawings and plans of cities that I saw in my coursework. I spent most of my time looking at them and wondering about how they were designed, who came up with the ideas, and how they were implemented. Before enrolling in these courses, I never really thought about the people responsible for drafting city plans and I was immediately attracted to the idea of drawing something that could result in the creation of an entire city- it was like making a body of artwork on a much larger scale. It was very interesting and it had a a very profound impact on my life- in a way I never expected.

While enrolled in that program, tragedy struck suddenly and my life was forever altered- I lost my brother and my father, both very suddenly, only two years apart.

In the midst of dealing with the trauma, grief, and uncertainty, I needed something to focus on. Trauma changes people, in ways I cant even really describe; I went from being part of a 4-person family to an only child with a single mother. There is no way I could have prepared for that and I needed something tangible to focus on, that was within my control. I had sketched a few maps of the Boston area while in the Urban Planning course and threw myself into this idea- using maps as inspiration for my artwork. I spent a lot of my time working in the studio, first creating the pieces in the Boston Neighborhood Series and then making the Commemorative Collection, which was a direct response to losing my brother and chronicles his life as a visual biography.

At first, the maps were a distraction - a way for me to create something that I thought was interesting and aesthetically pleasing. I liked the geometric shapes and the clear definition of what was defined as "street" and what was not.  My earliest pieces were very linear and looked more like diagrams, like this one of the MIT area of Cambridge.

However, the longer I worked on them the more I found them to be familiar and I started to love them- the previous concepts I used in graduate school- location, identity, and memory started to shine through and the work became more complex. I started to incorporate more layers of paint and alter the interpretations of the real geography to make them even more abstracted, as shown below in my San Antonio piece.

As I worked, I started to make connections between the work and my own personal experiences and I feel like the work has began to represent more than just lines and colors. My work is a tangible representation of a place on the globe- it reminds people of the important moments in their lives- the place where they got married, or lived when they were young. I like to use color palettes that are somewhat reminiscent of my personal experiences in the locations, or represent a general feeling that I get when I think of the city.

It also helps me feel connected to the world around me- as I work, I like to think about all the lives that exist in the places that I draw. The individuals, families, shop owners, etc that are all going about their daily routines in the little squares that I am drawing. Maps have become an important part of my life. They are a familiar and constant part of my everyday life and I hope you will check out my new website when you have a chance.