Matthew Cusick


31 Sunday 31st July 2011

Have you always liked to use collage as a medium?

I have always loved collage. It's like alchemy. As a child I was a collector of things: bugs, bottle-caps, baseball cards and comic books. As an artist, even if I was only painting, I would have piled up all around my studio these collections of things. I needed them around me in order to work. Eventually the two worlds collided. I am a bricoleur, and I have a natural inclination to make use of what surrounds me.


There’s something about paper and even maps themselves, that feel personal and handheld, is this contrast with the large scale works of highways and other landscapes something that appeals to you?

There is always a relationship between the materials and the size and the subject matter. I've been asked why I don't just scan the maps and print them out at whatever size I need them. That would be opening Pandora's Box.

The work would become deceptive and engineered looking. Instead, by using the actual material themselves, which in most cases is paper, I retain the connection between them as found, discarded, and sometimes personal objects that are being reconstituted into something new and meaningful.

Is the juxtaposition between these old maps and new highways intentional; is the stark contrast something you enjoy?

I like to think of my work as two dimensional time machines. As your eye meanders along one of the highways you crisscross different time periods and geographic locations. I do enjoy that.


The antique maps you use in your work, where do they come from? Are they your own collection, or just found?

I started off working with what I had and what friends and family could donate. It wasn't long before I needed more. In the process of acquiring more maps I became a collector of them as well.

I sort and archive my maps very carefully and occasionally I will come across something that I just don't have the heart to cut up. These maps I hold on to, but I'm sure eventually they will make their way into a painting.

Chasing the Dragon

Are the maps used in your work chosen purely for their visual effect, or is there also a deeper connection with the location of the maps and the piece itself? Or even a connection to you personally?

It depends on the piece. With the waves I will only work from maps of the ocean. With the portraits the maps are chosen from the time period and geographic history of the subject. Sometimes I will choose something completely arbitrary just because I like how it looks, but usually there is a logic or framework to the choices I make. Every new piece begins with hours just looking through everything I have and pulling out the maps that intuitively and conceptually are appropriate. These are then organized into files according to colour, value, and designation, like mountains, background, etc. There are so many connections— conceptual, historical, and personal— that are made, too many to go into now. I have started organising a system of legends that will articulate these connections that can be printed or published to accompany my exhibitions. That way the viewer, if he or she chooses, can invest as much time as they would like in discovering them. 


Are the landscapes you create imagined or taken from real sources?

I spend a lot of time looking for images. With the Highway series, I had exhausted all the resources I knew of when I was looking for images so I ended up chartering a helicopter and taking them myself. The original image has to be something I can work with; it has to be from the right perspective, both literally and figuratively. Once I have the right photograph I will make a series of drawings based on it. The drawing process distils the information and eventually provides a schematic. By the time I start working with the maps the image will have become different from the original photograph. It's like the game of telephone: I tell you something, you tell someone else, and so on, and the story changes with each reiteration.


How long does it take on average to complete one image?

It is hard to say exactly. I never keep track of the hours. I’ll work on a piece for two or three weeks and then put it aside and start a new one. To really understand what is going on in one piece I need to be working on another. I’ll usually have at least two or three in rotation. Depending on the size they can end up taking between 50 to 300 hours each.

Who or what inspires you?

My daughter, The Greek Myths, movies from the 70’s with great car chases, Philip Guston, The Museum of Natural History, William S Burroughs, Walt Whitman, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Diane Arbus, Katherine Bigelow, Max Ernst, James Castle, David Hammons, Bruce Conner, Joe Zucker, Krazy Kat, Bob Fosse, John Coltrane, Patti Smith, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC. The list goes on and on.

Mixmaster 2

What are you working on now? Will maps feature more within your work?

I just finished a new piece that I had been sitting on ever since I started working with maps. It's a portrait of the kid and the man responsible for the Beltway Sniper attacks back in 2002. The kid, Lee Malvo, is smiling broadly and looks docile, innocent and friendly. Around his shoulder is the arm of the man, John Muhammed, who was put to death a few years ago. His face is cropped out of the picture and you only see his arm hooking around the kid’s neck, his hand dangling prominently in the foreground. The background is an Islamic decorative pattern made from a special kind of target used by snipers. I was in the neighbourhood when it all went down, cleaning out my Grandmother's house after she passed away. It was around this time I first started working with maps, making images of cars out of them. I like working with maps. I've been working with maps now for almost ten years and I feel like I'm just starting to get the hang of it. I'll definitely keep going.

Sniper 1

To see more of Matthew Cusick's work visit his website here.

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