by Paula Scher
144 pages, hardcover, $50, published by Princeton Architectural Press, www.papress.com
A book about maps? Sounds as exciting as an eighth-grade geography class.
Well, one peek inside Paula Scher: MAPS, and you’ll be recalibrating that sentiment faster than a GPS. The iconic designer has not only mastered the tedious typographic feat of handwriting with acrylic paint, she’s repeated it countless times crafting obsessively detailed world maps (from top to bottom) with her hand-painted words. Now, for the first time, 39 of these impressive cartographic creations are collected in a colorful large-format volume.
The book opens with an essay by Scher and the influence of her father, who worked in the mapping division for the US Geological Service in the 1950s, and taught her that “all maps are distorted.” As a little girl, Scher interpreted this to mean, “all maps lie.” Combining her childlike fascination with maps and a riff on reality, Scher began expressing the world as she sees it in the early 1990s.
At first glance, the paintings are beautiful with their colorful hues, but appear no different than the familiar continent, country and city maps we know. But on closer inspection, the details are jaw-to-floor astounding. Typography replaces topography as each map is jam-packed with multi-layered, hand-painted place names, geographical data and cultural commentary. Bottom line: Forget about getting from Point A to Point B and journey through the crazy detailed, deceptively accurate, wild imagination of Paula Scher. —Stephanie Orma