By Samantha Hinton
Out of the calm of her Connecticut countryside residence, graphic artist Paula Scher is anything but peaceful and quiet when painting her lively maps. While playing old movies in the background and saying the lines along with the actors, Scher splashes vibrant colors and data across her huge typographic maps.
Paula Scher has been one of the most influential graphic designers for the past three decades. Her work is described as an intersection of pop culture and fine art. She began her career in the 1970s as an art director and became a partner of the iconic design firm Pentagram in 1991. Scher shifted her attention to painting graphic maps after wanting to meaningfully reconnect with her art in the way she did before the acceleration of digital media.
Her knowledge of maps and cartography extends back to her childhood. Her father, a civil engineer, designed a device to correct how the curvature of the earth affects aerial photographs. Scher states that her father taught her all about accuracy and distortion in maps. She now creates large typographic maps about global air routes, zip codes in the US postal system, European railways, and more.
This map, completed in 2015, displays international air routes with acrylic on a hand-pulled silkscreen. In this rendition, typically dull and uninspiring air route data explodes across the screen with colors, dotted lines, names, and countries.
Seen in her maps and other works is Scher’s passion for typography. To her, maps are just another way to make type talk. Her remarkable colors and composition weave together small bits of information to create something much bigger. Each air route displayed on this map comes together to express a larger message about global flight travel. She says “I paint in acrylics, so the color is built up in the series of levels of layers of information. Then there is the excessiveness of the information and the things that I learn when I am painting. They depict overall truths and it’s an amalgamation of information that in its volume creates sensibilities about places.”
Furthermore, Scher says that her maps are emotional, not factual. They are not necessarily designed to answer questions but rather raise them. This map might not tell you a specific fact about global air paths but it will no doubt inspire new thoughts about their global connectivity. Scher presents “abstract expressionism information” for the viewers to choose what message they take with them.
You can learn more about Paula Scher in the recent Netflix series, Abstract: The Art of Design.