Artist Emily Garfield maps places that don't exist. "I think that's related to the way cities grow in real life."

Emily Garfield like to say that she grows cities. With pen, ink, and watercolor, the Boston-based artist creates maps of imaginary places that tap into the essence of urban form.

"They evolve as I draw," she says of her free-form cartographs. "I think that's related to the way cities grow in real life."

"Pulses (Cityspace #216)"

Garfield has long been interested by the presentation of architecture in visual art. The inviting, surrealist arcades and sidewalks of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico inspired Garfield to begin producing her own street-level dreamscapes as an art student at Brown University.

But it was when she created her first aerial view of a fantasy city—an abstract web of streets, bridges, and blocks—that she got a particularly positive response from other people. Even without any text, Garfield's drawings were strongly recognizable as maps. And viewers connected to that.

"Stepping Stones (Cityspace #94)"

"With a few exceptions, my drawings don't describe real places," says Garfield. "I don’t label streets or give direction. My rivers are barely identifiable. They're very abstract. But people still identify them as maps right away. They put themselves into that space."

Garfield attributes this recognizability to the fractal quality of her maps—the complex pattern that repeats, ad infinitum, into the corners of her pages. Real cities, and especially ones that have grown mostly from the bottom-up, are often fractal in form when examined from above.

"It's interesting, because my cities are technically built 'top-down,' since they're only coming from me," says Garfield. "But I’m drawing them as if they’re a more organic city where people self-organize and gather in neighborhoods like they would in a real city."

"Infotrails (Cityspace #213)"

She's expanded her practice into offering imaginary map-making workshops at various museums and maker spaces in the Boston area. Kids tend to connect more readily to the fantastical prompt, she says, but some adults run with it, too.

"I had a woman who was a quilter, and was used to making repetitive, geometric patterns, and she got really into it that way," Garfield says. "But everyone gets it eventually. Everyone has an idea of a map in their head."

"Composite 6 (Kennebunk / Airspace)"
"Antique Plans (Cityspace #181)"
"Boston, MA"—one of a few "real" maps Garfield has created
"Sunrise Fields (Cityspace #151)"
"Branching Networks (Cityspace #178)"
Mapmakers at one of Garfield's recent workshops.

All images courtesy of Emily Garfield.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  2. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
    Coronavirus

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  3. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.
    Coronavirus

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  4. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

  5. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.
    Coronavirus

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

×