Map 1961 - Jasper Johns - as featured in Map Exploring the World

The Art of the Map - Jasper Johns

Maya Lin, Alighiero Boetti, Leonardo da Vinci, Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei - great artists who've also created great maps. In a new series we take a look at the ones featured in the new book Map Exploring the World

Maps have been used in many ways over the years - not just as analytical tools to get you from A to B (without going via C - wherever the hell that is). One of our favourite applications of the map is the artistic one - where its used as a form of expressive visual art that has both cultural and political purposes, often with deep aesthetic underpinnings.

Many of the maps in our new book, Map Exploring the World highlight this aesthetic and design element, and we think the pairings prompt new consideration of, and conclusions about, precisely what makes an abstract rendering into a map. 

Maps have always been used for artistic purposes because the shapes of the familiar lend themselves well to artistic expression and reimagination. Such questions have long preoccupied visual artists as well as cartographers and the new book contains many thought-provoking responses to and developments of map-making by artists from Jasper Johns to Grayson Perry. In the run up to its publication we’ll be bringing you a selection of them. We start today, with Jasper Johns and his 1961 painting called, what else, Map. 


Map Exploring the World
Map Exploring the World

Johns puts the art squarely into cartography with Map, which develops his use of easily recognizable images by using the map of the United States in a colourful celebration of both the country and the map itself. The artist wanted to use an image that viewers knew so well that they simply ‘saw’ it without having to look at or examine it in depth. This is also one of the fundamental aspects of map design – to create a product whose design is implicit rather than explicit, allowing the reader to understand the meaning without having to work hard – so Johns' painting can be seen as linking fine art and cartography together.

It is an imaginative piece that provides a metaphor for the abstract nature of mapping itself. Colourful and playful, interesting and immersive, it riffs on the Pop art painting of the time by such contemporaries of Johns as Andy Warhol, who also experimented with the use of maps. Johns’ use of paint is somewhat abstract in application and does not conform to cartographic conventions. He labels places many times in the wrong location, so Map challenges convention as much as it reflects the uniformity of the map’s familiar shape. Check out Map Exploring the World in the store now.