Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Where am I now and where do I go to next?

Route map of the North London Line from Drawing my way round London
Where am I now and where do I go to next are two questions I am asking myself a lot at the moment and they have nothing to do with getting from A to B. I've completed two contrasting art projects and now I feel at a bit of a loose end. I would love to get my teeth into something new but nothing intriguing has yet appeared on the horizon. So instead of kicking my heels at home I visited Tower Hamlets History Library & Archives to learn a bit about life in the Jewish East End in Whitechapel in the late 1890s and that included looking at maps.

Map of my route along the Hertford
Union canal.
As it happens Drawing my way round London and 805 steps along the Hertford Union Canal did both involve travelling and map-making. Having spent a long time drawing these maps it made me think about how we use them. In my case I wanted to show a simplified route of where my art was taking me and to make it easier for the readers of my blogs to follow.

The exhibition Maps and the 20th century: Drawing the line at the British Library was worth visiting and is ending in a couple of weeks. It shows many types of maps that I have never seen before. For example I was very struck by a huge Soviet town plan of Brighton from as late as 1990. I always try and read the labels on maps to try and get a handle on the geography but these were in Cyrillic which made these familiar names completely foreign and I found that a bit disturbing.

Some of our own collection
I enjoyed seeing the original rough pencil sketch for the London tube map from 1931 which was hand drawn by Harry Beck. This basic design has survived for nearly 90 years and has been flexible enough to undergo numerous changes over the years and works just as well on digital platforms while retaining the original characteristics we have become so used to. I also became nostalgic for the A to Z maps of London which were originally compiled in the 1930s by Phyllis Pearsall, a British painter and writer. For years I used never to leave home without one and now we just rely on Google Maps to direct us.

An example of a different kind of map was produced by the Ford Motor Company as a souvenir of a trip you could take through the Ford Rouge Plant in River Rouge MI in 1940. This was a diagrammatic map of the progress of iron ore to the finished car. And as a complete contrast from any other exhibit there was an Escape Map dress on display. At the end of the war there was a surplus of military 'escape and evasion' maps which had been printed onto silk in order to be lightweight, more durable than paper and silent when opened. This dress was made using military maps of South East Asia which may have come from an RAF airfield in southern England. This reminded me that my Grandmother made my aunt's wedding dress from parachute silk in the late 1940s because there was so much of it available.

My foray into maps may or may not lead to a new direction for my artwork but it has been fun exploring them and if I fancy browsing any more unusual maps I can pore over The Map Book edited by Peter Barber that I was given as a birthday present.