Paper Art 3 – Maps as Portraits, Maps as Clothing

Native New Yorker Matthew Cusick was born in 1970, graduated from The Cooper Union with a BFA in 1993, and his work began to be exhibited internationally within just three years. His resume is impressive.

But what I find most fascinating about Mr. Cusick is his chosen media: maps, atlases, encyclopedias, and textbooks. He was quoted in an article saying, “I like to catalog, archive, and arrange information and then dismantle, manipulate, and reconfigure it. I use maps as a surrogate for paint and as a way to expand the limits of representational painting.”

It’s through this process that he tries to show not only an image of a person, but also that person’s geographic and historical journey through life. I have no information on how the pieces were chosen for the map/portrait of Geronimo shown here, but a description of a portrait of German film director Leni Riefenstahl includes portions of maps of Northern Italy, Sudan, Munich, and Nuremburg, all significant locations in her life and work.

Another article describes his painstaking process like this: “[Mr. Cusick] abstracts photographs by reducing them to layers of color. He then recreates each layer using old maps, matching not only hues and tones to the color, but the places on the map to the subject of the portrait. And finally, he assembles the collage-painting on a panel by cutting and inlaying each piece so as to produce a perfectly smooth final work.” The resulting collage, the author writes is “multiple, interwoven sources synced together like instruments in a symphony.”

His subjects are not always human; we tantalize you here with a detail from a horse he created.

While Mr. Cusick uses maps as paint for portraits, Elisabeth Lecourt uses maps to create  smaller than life-size women’s dresses which she sees as focused on female identity and self-representation. In a sense, a dress becomes an address. Ms. Lecourt was born in France in 1972 and currently lives and works in London, where she achieved her Master’s from the Royal College of Art in 2001. Like Mr. Cusack, she quickly won an international following and reputation.

She is also a painter, but Ms. Lacourt is particularly known for her eye-catching map dresses. She works with antique maps such as a 14th Century one of Sir Francis Drake’s voyage and another that diagrams rivers and mountains around the world. From this material that she describes as poetic, she creates one-of-a-kind, for-display only distinctive dresses, that to my eye are simply lovely and charming. According to more than one article, however, for her, the dresses represent an exploration of feminine vulnerability and sensitivity. Here is part of how they were described for an exhibition at the NOPX Gallery in Turin, Italy:

Lecourt, following the work of Louise Bourgeois and Julio Cortazar, reflects on the body, the woman, on herself as a human being uprooted and nostalgic, and creates small works made of paper: in her bizarre wardrobe many paper dresses are hung, after being patiently created, fold after fold, as large origami . . .  Each one tells a story about places, memory and remembrance, in a sort of autobiography, made not of words but of clothes.

The description goes on to attribute a range of emotions to each dress, ranging from melancholy to humor. I prefer to take the dresses at face value – clever and pleasing.

What do you think?

  • What do you like about the work of these artists?
  • Does either artist produce art you would like to hang on your walls? Talk about your answer.
  • Do you think that critics can get carried away in attributing greater meaning to works of art than is necessary? How do you judge art?
  • Now that the world has been taken over by GPS, paper maps are seldom needed. If you were to recycle maps into art, what would you create?
  • If you were to make a work of art from maps that represented your life, what places would need to be included?
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