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Creative Cartography: Ed Fairburn's map portraits

  • Jul 18, 2013
  • 553 words
  • 3 minutes
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Photo: Ed Fairburn’s Western Front Cutout series combines ink, military maps and climate charts. (Photos courtesy of Ed Fairburn)

Stafford Lane: Ink and paper on a reproduced military map of France.

This article is part of a series of Q&As with some of the world’s best artists working with maps. Read more Q&As here.

The faces Ed Fairburn inserts into his maps are so genuine and lifelike that it seems as though they were there all along, waiting for the artist to reveal them with a good eye and some clever shading. The faces recall the connection between ourselves and where we come from as they dissolve into the page, and the haunting roads, rivers and borders meandering across the portraits remind us that we are a product of our surroundings and our experiences.

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Windermere: Pencil on a map of the English Lakes

Canadian Geographic: What about maps inspires you?

Ed Fairburn: The random nature of the patterns found in cartography is both beautiful and very giving. When I draw I often feel fortunate to be working on an ever-changing surface. No two square inches are ever the same and the landscape is full of surprises.

Canadian Geographic: What is the connection between the medium and the subject?

EF: There are many connections between man and map. I’d like my work to emphasize the relationship between us as a race and the space in which we occupy, and I feel that today, as the world becomes increasingly taken-over by industry and everything else that’s unnatural, it’s important to remember that fundamentally, we are a product of nature in the same way that the landscape is. My work is a very literal manifestation of this idea.

Canadian Geographic: How do you choose the maps you work with? How do you work with them to achieve the final product?

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Peak District: Pencil on a map of the Peak District

EF: I shop for maps in charity shops, book shops and anywhere else I can find them. I tend to hoard them in my studio and only use a fraction of what I buy. I like to unfold them in the shop (which is often awkward). I’ll take a brief look at the patterns, characteristics, colours etc. When I begin work, I identify key areas, both on the map and the figure, before drafting in tones and details. Different types of maps correspond well to the different techniques that I’ve developed.

Canadian Geographic: What are you hoping people will take away from your work?

EF: I think it’s ultimately up to them, so it’s not my place to say . I can discuss the concepts behind my work to an audience, but the work will speak for itself regardless of what I say — and it’ll ‘say’ different things to different people.

Visit Ed Fairburn’s website to view more of his work or purchase prints.

Read other artists in the Creative Cartography series:

David Thomas Smith’s manipulated satellite photos
Nikki Rosato’s map sculptures
Matt Cusick’s map collages
Ross Racine’s imagined suburbia


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