One wall in visual artist Becky Brown‘s Saltonstall studio is covered with maps: the United States; Monmouth County, New Jersey; Nova Scotia; Lake Mead; Pompeii (from a 1950s-era issue of National Geographic); and a folding plastic map of New York State that her mother gave her before she left for Ithaca.
On the opposite wall is a large colorful work-in-progress, criss-crossed with long grey lines that hint at longitude and latitude. “It’s becoming a map,” explains Becky. “I’ve been working on it, on and off, for about a year. It started out with a collection of images, but I realized they were all places or representations of places.”
She’s always loved maps. “Maps are basically collections of abstract images. But they’re the most real thing,” she says, referring to how a map represents streets, neighborhoods, and parks. “They’re the most real thing and the most abstract thing at the same time.”
A nostalgia for a format that is quickly becoming obsolete influences this work as Becky adapts an existing visual format into something new. “I use photos as a starting point, and I use paint to extend the structure,” she explains. She even “collects” map legends and incorporates them into the new work. “I bring in all these conventions,” she says, pointing to a small area on her piece, painted green with little black crosses — what one would identify quickly as a cemetery on a map across the room.
(Image on top: detail of work-in-progress)