5 paper artists who make incredible artworks from old maps

Anna Karina by Ed Fairburn

I’ve always been impressed by artists who use unexpected and found materials in their work. Where others see something unremarkable and disposable, these artists see beauty, and I think this can shift our perception of our surroundings too.

But these artists aren’t choosing old maps to save paper. They believe they are able to express something through that medium, that couldn’t be achieved any other way.

Creative minds and skilled makers play such a big role, perhaps inadvertently, not only in changing the way we look at objects that already exist, but finding value in them. With that in mind, here are five paper artists who are doing magical things with old maps and atlas pages.

Claire Brewster

Detail of The Harbingers by Claire Brewster

Claire Brewster is both a painter and paper artist. She sees the artist as an outsider, and therefore ‘ideally placed for picking up that which has been chucked out.’ Claire uses old and out of date maps and atlases to create intricate, delicate and detailed cut outs. They are about, ‘retrieving the discarded, celebrating the unwanted and giving new life to the obsolete’, she says.

Art made from a recycled London map by Claire Brewster

Claire takes here inspiration from the environment and uses old maps to create entomological installations of flora and fauna from imagined locations. Her birds, insects and flowers ‘transcend borders and pass freely between countries with scant regard for rules of immigration or the effects of biodiversity’. This body of work she calls paper sculptures aims to remind us that nature is present even in the most urban environments.

Birds cut out of maps by Claire Brewster

Be sure to also check out Claire’s new body of work which combines collage with paint, recently featured on The Jealous Curator.

Ed Fairburn

Figurative study on map by Ed Fairburn

Ed Fairburn brings a whole new meaning to the ‘face’ of the earth. He uses ink and pencil on maps to create incredible large scale portraits. Rivers and roads are utilised to sculpt the drawings and map out the contours of the face. Of his Bartholomew series pictured above, he says,

Through this body of work I study both the physical attributes of the terrain and the features of my chosen subjects. I search for opportunities to synchronise the two, finding similarities between the patterns, before drafting out the portrait and building the tone.

Denver Southbound by Ed Fairburn

In the work ‘Denver Southbound’, two techniques have been combined. Ed uses ink over a USGS topographic map of South Denver. He says,

The crosshatching between streets, preserves the layout of towns and cities, but also follows and manipulates the weighting of contours, the organic lines which show elevation.

Ed has also done a series of collaborative pieces with artist Bobbie Jo which combine ink with cut out paper sculpture. The work ‘Anna Karina’ (top of the page) was inspired by French new wave films by Jean-Luc Godard.

Nikki Rosato

Art made from recycled maps by Nikki Rosato

For Nikki Rosato, road maps are her medium of choice for both two and three-dimensional art works. She began using them in her work because she felt they were able to illustrate the complexities of human relationships, our attachment to place, whilst curiously resembling the lines and vessels of the human body. Her technique involves removing the land masses from the maps, so that only the roads and rivers remain.

Human bust made from cut out road maps by Nikki Rosato

In her artist’s statement, Nikki says,

The visual aspects of a road map are remarkably human. A map is a symbol of a living, breathing, moving body—the land is just as alive as we are. A map’s lines carve the pathways for the rhythms and movements that undulate across the surface of the earth.

As we move though life, the places we inhabit and the people that we meet alter and shape us into the person that we are in the present day. I am interested in the idea that a place I visited as a child has affected the outcome of the person that I am today.

Matthew Cusick

Portrait made from maps by Matthew Cusick

Dallas-based artist Matthew Cusick began collecting maps after graduating in 2001. He now uses them to create incredibly detailed collages ranging from portraits and fantastical landscapes to cityscapes and abstract scenes. According to the Pavel Zoubuk gallery, Matthew’s collages address a range of subjects. These include:

…the nihilistic and celebrity driven culture of Hollywood, and the male-dominated worlds of muscle cars and surfing. He is captivated by the geography of American culture. Cars, freeways, golf courses, ocean waves, and infamous icons and archetypes have all been recurrent themes in his work.

See also some of his amazing seascapes, featured previously here.

Detail of art made from maps by paper artist Matthew Cusick

Collage using maps by paper artist Matthew Cusick

His recent work includes ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ (which translates as forest, solitude and loneliness). This is a 4 x 10ft triptych, based on two photos taken in Virginia during a road trip during the 1990s. The artist chose to depict this subject, as the memory of the moment was so vivid. He describes the changing patterns of light and forest swirling around him as ‘extremely powerful, transcendental and almost hallucinogenic.’

Waldeinsamkeit by Matthew Cusick

Jennifer Collier

Camera made from old maps by Jennifer Collier

Jennifer Collier is a paper artist who makes objects by weaving, waxing and stitching natural and found materials. Her creations represent all kinds of everyday objects. As well as cameras and dresses, she has made suitcases, tea sets and even a typewriter, all from found papers.

Dress made from recycled maps by Jennifer Collier

Paper is sourced from flea markets and charity shops. Jennifer’s largest work to date is a dress that was 4.5 metres long. She says,

I tend to make work that is both extremes of scale, either really big, or really small, to get across the fact that my work cannot be worn, that it is fine art textiles rather than fashion.

*See more in depth features on Claire Brewster and Jennifer Collier in the book Upcyclist*

Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).