Using Maps In Mixed Media

Not In Kansas -Susan Spencer

Maps are a popular addition to mixed media art these days. The practice of using maps came from the art of Joseph Cornell, one of the fathers of assemblage, particularly assemblages within boxes. Cornell produced art from the 30’s through the 60’s, and his use of maps has been brought forward with good reason. Maps have immediate viewer interest, we can relate to maps either through direct experience, or through nostalgia. Maps carry visual depth and can represent ideas like travel, adventure, and intrigue.

In ‘Not In Kansas’ I used two large areas of vintage maps to point to the idea of travel, particularly ocean travel. The boat, the fish, the headless bubbling characters, all add to that story, even Dorothy’s red slippers. All are floating on a sea of blue.

In the spirit of fun, and for the sake of incongruence, the child and clown drifted into the scene. The figures are in the boat, but really more like ‘represented to be in the boat.’ The images are from vintage photos that fit with the period references to Cornell, the maps, and Dorothy’s slippers. But to be honest I just like these two characters and I was glad to have found them a home in one of my collages.

I think this piece would be rather flat without the background maps. I’ve used them to help pull the piece together without overpowering the subject, and to represent that idea of travel to places unknown.

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