I trace my interest in mapmaking to looking down at the landscape from the air. Seeing the planet from a plane frames the subject and allows us to see systems. Everything is reduced to a two-dimensional form.
An antique wire fence—one that no longer served its purpose—also reframed how I saw the landscape. In graduate school, I did a series of works based on this decrepit fence, which I discovered in the woods near my house. I was attracted to the way it both framed the surrounding landscape and changed it through its playful, contorted shapes. “Time Lapse” (in the gallery, below) is an example of this early exploration of pattern and its disruption.
Over the years I’ve also thought about disruption of another sort—displacement, particularly the displacement of people. After I moved from Massachusetts to California, in 2013, I began incorporating maps into my work—memory-maps of places that held meaning for me. “Remembered Map I,” in which I experimented with rolling, printing, and stamping along with more traditional techniques, contains a mash-up of the street plans in my former and latter locations.
Another work, “Remembered Map VI,” goes further back in time, to the early 1960s, depicting the well-traveled route from my childhood home to my best friend’s house in Warwick, Rhode Island. And “Land Picture” is a mash-up of the route I took from home to school in 1974 and an 18th century Korean Chonhado (“map of the world beneath the heavens”). In this old map, which reflects the view that the world was flat, Korea and its neighbors are ringed by mythical lands.
I was adopted at a young age and have found that the transitions in my life are informed by that early separation. I have a deep empathy for others who are banished. My Remembered Maps series, and the cross-country move that inspired it, coincided with the unfolding of the refugee crisis in Europe. In 2016, I was invited to participate in an international artist symposium in Struga, Macedonia and to exhibit my work in Pristina, Kosovo. While overseas, I volunteered in refugee camps, teaching art to displaced Syrian and Afghan children in Northern Greece. The experience had a powerful effect on me, and the convergence of these various threads informed the work I was doing at the time.
Real maps mean business. They represent an attempt to make sense of the bigger picture. Marshall Islands stick charts, for example, are navigational charts depicting patterns of swells in the Pacific Ocean and show how these swells are disrupted by the islands. Made from materials such as shells and the ribs of coconut fronds, these maps are serious but look like a child’s art project.
I’m at once serious and playful when I make art. My Explorations series incorporates some of the more playful-looking symbols found in old maps. I’ve become fascinated with early maps and the abstract language employed by cartographers to describe unexplored regions like the sea. In response to this abstract language, my work emphasizes abstract forms rather than narrative aspects. “Circuit,” loosely based on a stick chart, was the first work that seemed to move in this new direction.
Currently I’m working on a series of paintings inspired by the pathways found in board games like Candy Land, which takes place on a map of an imaginary world. In my series Game Pathways, colorful squares meander and are superimposed on other forms where they start and stop again only to wind up unresolved. The map thus scrambled, our destinations are unreachable and we are left in a kind of purgatory.
ARTerrain Gallery by Joyce Conlon Mapworks | Paintings
Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size.
About the Artist
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Joyce Conlon has a BFA in Painting from Pratt Institute, an MA in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an MFA from Hartford Art School.
She has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including at Startup Art Fair at Hotel del Sol, San Francisco; Galeria Tetove in Tetovo, Macedonia; Galeria Qahili in Pristina, Kosovo; Galeria Centar in Podgorica, Montenegro; Hampden Gallery at the University of Massachusetts; and Silpe Gallery at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
Joyce was a 2017 MacDowell Fellow. She also has been awarded residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and was an invited participant in International Artist Symposiums in Carei, Romania; Struga, Macedonia; and Boston, Massachusetts. She is the recipient of grants from the University of Hartford and the Vermont Studio Center.
Joyce is also an adjunct faculty member at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass. She has taught at the Richmond Art Center in Richmond, California, and Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, Calif. She lives in Deerfield, Mass.