Traditionally, maps help us to navigate the world around us, establish systems of understanding, and illustrate ideas or journeys. Maps rely on visual language to transfer knowledge, ideas and stories, between people.
The collection at the National Galleries of Scotland has several examples of artists working with maps, or the visual language of cartography. This selection features some artworks which explore ownership and the absurd, challenging established notions of order, knowledge and power. And artists who use maps as a tool for marking memories and encounters or creating imaginary worlds.
Since the early 1990s, Louise Hopkins has used furnishing fabrics, maps, song sheets, comics and pages of magazines to create works that address the process and problems of representation. The printed materials she chooses often have social or political associations.
In Europe Map (Land) (1), Hopkins aims to challenge the accepted concepts of how we are told the world looks. By adding a layer of paint, the artist has created a new place, a mash-up of the real and imagined. Recognisable symbols from the original map, such as the red lines signifying main roads, are in places where they are not supposed to be, which is unsettling.
In Untitled (169) Hopkins has applied ink by hand to a map of the world, leaving circles around the names of oceans and countries so they are still visible. It’s like we are seeing a place in the dark for the first time, we can’t quite get our bearings. Hopkins artworks subvert or challenge established notions of order and the power that comes from knowledge.
David Shrigley’s art is infused with a dark, dry humour that highlights the absurdity of our everyday fears and aspirations.
He is best known for his drawings which are fast, deliberately crude and child-like.
They are exhibited or published unaltered (he never draws anything twice) and so they often feature scribbled-out parts and misspelt words.
Shrigley converts what appear to be a series of casually doodled lines into a complex network of paths with one simple word accompanied by an arrow – ‘enter’.
There’s nothing here of the ordered, conquerable maze that we have walked or led a pen through. The coils and tangles of the drawing fall off the page, with no idea of its size or if there even is an exit.
In 1948 Alan Davie saw the work of the American Abstract Expressionists and, impressed by their intensity and freedom, abandoned traditional methods of composition and subject matter and sought to free his art from premeditated decision-making. In the later 1950s and 1960s Davie's brushwork became more controlled and the imagery more legible. Mysterious symbols began to appear, found in sources as varied as American Indian pottery, maps, ancient rock-carvings and Aboriginal art.
Davie’s Island Fantasy was commissioned by the Pier Art Centre in Stromness, Orkney and is based on medieval maps. A few years earlier, Davie had flown over Orkney and been struck by the resemblance between the islands he could see and those depicted in medieval maps.
The intense colour and darks lines make the map leap out at you. The recognisable map-making symbols are overlaid with ambiguous shapes which look like symbols or characters, giving the sense of an invasion or occupation.
Prunella Clough studied at Chelsea School of Art in London before working as a draughtsman during the Second World War, drawing charts and maps for the War Office. Throughout her career as a painter and printmakers, Clough’s main subject was the urban and industrial landscape of Britain. She viewed the work she made as landscape, being influenced not only by urban and industrial scenes (the subject) but also by the materials and colours of industry - taking inspiration from the shapes and colours of the scenes. In this way, her work treads the line between figuration and abstraction.
The simple marks and shapes invite us to imagine symbols and landscapes. There is something ancient in lines, and modern in the surfaces the artist has created, we are unsure what we are looking at. Monoprinting is a form of printmaking that has lines or images that can only be made once, unlike most printmaking, which allows for multiple originals.
Julie Roberts paints works with a strong critical bite and intellectual rigour. Her main theme is the human, particularly female, body and the way that it is subjected to institutional, familial, sexual and natural constraints and injuries.
This painting depicts the village which Marie-Antoinette had built between 1783 and 1785 in the grounds of Versailles. Inspired by the theories of the ‘state of nature’ developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French Queen created a fantasy village which included a Dairy and a Barn. The main building featured in Roberts’s painting is the Queen’s House. Marie Antoinette dressed up as a shepherdess, visiting the neighbouring farm and entertaining in her fairy-tale village, in a style totally at variance to the pomp and ceremony of the court.
Nature plays an important role in Joseph Beuys's art. While his early drawings and paintings depicted nature or used natural elements and pigments, his later work combined his interests in politics and nature.
The title of this drawing translates as 'The Plantation' in Italian. It relates to a project the artist began in 1984, on his sixty-third birthday, to plant four hundred trees and bushes in Bolognano. He was made an honorary citizen of the town in the same year. Beuys particularly loved Italy, and his work was exhibited there during his lifetime more than in any other country.
We can think of La Piantagione as a map of an idea, with words as well marks recreating an imagined landscape, or one that – at that stage – had not been realised. Written words themselves are symbols standing in for objects and actions.
Richard Long’s work is about walking and the direct experience of nature. From the mid-1960s, while still a student, he began making walks and photographing the trace he had made (the flattened grass, stones laid at regular intervals) or he would simply mark the course of the walk on a map. Through minimal intervention he expressed man’s relationship with the landscape.
While some of Long's walks are recorded by a photograph, others are marked by a text, with a handful of words chosen to describe the long walks the artist makes all over the world. Richard Long’s economical use of language makes the description even more poetic. Where the ambiguity of the line and shapes in Prunella Clough’s work invites us to imagine meaning behind them, here we start to picture – without trying – the cloud, the altitude, the loneliness. In this sense, these works invite us to inhabit them through our own imagination.