A Map of the Sky including Betelguese and a Pecan (1993) by Jimmie Durham, as reproduced in Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World

How Jimmie Durham saw the night sky

Understand how this important contemporary artist brings his vision of the heavens right down to earth

Nobody sees the world – or the Cosmos, for that matter – quite like Jimmie Durham. The 77-year-old artist combines contemporary styles of painting with vernacular and folk traditions, to produce a view of the world that is at once accurate and earthy, and yet also strange and naïve, as our new book, Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World, acknowledges when examining his 1993 work A Map of the Sky.

“There is a sense of delight and fun in the depthless arrangement of A Map of the Sky, which includes childish representations of five-pointed stars - including Venus, in its guise of the Morning Star, and Mars – depicted in lime green, lemon yellow, baby blue and scarlet red labelled with white upper-case writing,” explains the text in Universe.

“Other labels mark the position of constellations including Scorpio, with more or less accurate depictions of their stars, as well as Halley’s Comet and a falling star. The American artist Jimmie Durham subverts the traditional medium of oil painting by including found objects: a crab to represent the constellation Cancer, and a pecan nut.


Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World
Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World

“The objects increase the work’s cartoonish aesthetic, as the wonders of Durham’s imagination mould a new vision of the Universe. Born in 1940, but leaving the United States in 1987 to live in Mexico and then Europe, Durham uses his work to question hierarchies, using sculptural assemblages, as well as found materials, to fuse materials that are both synthetic and natural. All are equal within his artworks: oil paint, crabs, nuts, driftwood and bones are all resources through which to express a feeling or idea.”

For more cosmic images by such varied star gazers as NASA, Andy Warhol, Picasso and Hergé order a copy of Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World here; and for more on Jimmie Durham, get this newly updated Contemporary Artist Series book.