by Maggie York-Worth
Charlotte, NC-based artist Karen O'Leary reimagines the map as an exchange of negative and positive space. Deftly cutting maps of New York, Paris and London with razor precision, she leaves delicate webs of streets as land and water are cut away. Negative space demarcates land, while meandering grids of paper represents streets. In a recent interview with The Jailbreak, O'Leary said of her work, "I love the idea of a completely familiar object made new and even more beautiful."
Her New York map (pictured above and below), the simplest and most haunting of the three, emerges from the expanse of white paper as an intricate abstract diagram of pathways, separated from one another by the negative memory of land.
O'Leary reclaims the conventional fold-out for her Paris and London maps, reducing the existing structure to a lingering cut-out of the cities.
O'Leary also sells drawing maps through her Etsy site (starting at about $300)Studio K, in which she fills in the blocks of Paris with hand-drawn horizontal lines, leaving the streets blank. The work simplifies the map by erasing the unnecessary. But through this deletion she highlights the complexity of a city's streets. Says O'Leary, "These maps reveal the density and delicacy of a modern city with a single element and infinite subtleties."
The maps, haunting in their simplicity and startling visual potency, highlight the transient beauty of each city's skylines through their delicate construction. Says O'Leary, "Imagine all the sounds and smells and feelings of being in a large cityâ¦then try to transfer that to paper without using words, only by using a knife or a pen."