A Conversation with Nathalie Hartjes, director of MAMA, on the Occasion of her Participation in POPPOSITIONS, Brussels, Belgium, by James Scarborough
Sublime Spontaneity: The Watercolors of Marjorie Muns, by James Scarborough

The Poetically Intelligent Design of Andrew Wenrick, by James Scarborough

Removing the friction from a system is an aesthetic joy.
Clive Thompson, “Efficiency is Beautiful,” Wired Magazine, April 2019

ABSTRACT: In "The Poetically Intelligent Design of Andrew Wenrick," the author examines the artist's unique approach to transforming ordinary maps into complex, multi-dimensional art pieces. Through descriptive and analytical prose, the article highlights how Wenrick repurposes the visual and conceptual elements of maps, such as the Thomas Brothers Guides, into synthetic realities and fictional geographic networks. It delves into specific works, emphasizing the labor-intensive process and the resulting aesthetic beauty that transcends their mundane origins. This piece not only showcases Wenrick's artistic ingenuity but also explores broader themes of recontextualization and finding beauty in everyday objects.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, everyone talks about the traffic. Andrew Wenrick does something with it. At least with its visual representation. He seizes the graphic potential of readymade maps. Like the venerable and once ubiquitous print version of the Thomas Brothers Guides. Because maps brim with visual elements and conceptual data, they beg to be used as the raw material for art. From these visual elements and conceptual data, he fashions synthetic realities, fictional geographic networks. Think Borges in the third dimension.

Like a freeway extension, the effort is monumental and labor-intensive. Everything in the Middle, for instance. A triptych. At first glance, a map fed into a shredder and then rearranged like chromatic tumbleweeds. Hardly. Precise hand cut skeins of individual freeways and thoroughfares. Alluding to freeway over- and under-passes, these skeins are built from the ground up. They are multi-dimensional, complex, and atmospheric. A new order minted from some same old disorder. If you didn’t associate it with the grind of rush hour traffic, you could even call the work beautiful. When life gives you Sig Alerts, make art.

I Wonder…Los Angeles, too. A diptych. On the right side, a grid constructed from tiny ziggurats. In its center, a circular void. On the left side, the circle would fit into the center of the grid. Each ziggurat made from the pages of a Thomas Brothers Guide. The piece acknowledges then subverts the Guide’s Cartesian coordinate location system. Good bye to the myth of a rational, well-laid out city. It looks so tidy on paper but … As with Everything in the Middle, its labor matters. 441 miniscule ziggurats, each 2x2 centimeters (about 0.79x 0.79 inches). A perfect example of how the devil is in the details but the angels are in the vision.

Wenrick’s work embodies a novel and intelligent idea, keenly executed. His is a meta project. He creates dynamic compositions from already-abstracted maps. These meta-maps pulse with stop-and-go rush hour traffic and the false equilibrium of schematized city streets and other arteries. The result? He humanizes traffic. He imposes order on sprawl. He makes them aesthetically manageable, if not downright attractive.

The works’ enduring quality, though, is its old school craft. In the interview that accompanies this piece, Wenrick notes, Once a strong idea has been conceived, then the making of the artwork becomes rote. Rote, okay but still, the effort is laden with significance. Waze’s and Google Maps’ seamless GUIs emerge from obsessive amounts of digital coding. Wenrick's lapidary wall pieces emerge from obsessive amounts of analog cutting and pasting. The time and effort that goes into each piece suggests that which went into the construction of Gothic cathedrals. One secular, one spiritual, each sanctifies and poeticizes space through craftsmanship.

 

PORTLAND, 2009, maps, paper and matte board, 40.5 x 55.5 cm each (16 x 22 inches each), diptych

A very minimalist interpretation of the Portand, Oregon Thomas Bros. Guide. These maps are typically laid out in square grids in order to find locations easily with the letter/number index in the back. This diptych is laid out in consecutive order convex to concave or figure and ground. The quadrant on the concave side marries up perfectly with the quadrant on the convex side. For example, when I cut out the map pieces to make the concave square I was left with all the parts to also make the convex square. Unique repetition, or individualized repetition, plays a big role in my work and this piece embodies that in a minimalist form.

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EVERYTHING IN THE MIDDLE, 2012, acrylic and paper on wood, 20 x 80 x 3 cm (8 x 30.75 x 1.25 inches)

For this piece, I used a large atlas of America and as the atlas was laid out there is typically one to two pages devoted per State. And included on the pages of the States were enlarged detail city maps of the mid tier cities tucked into the corners of the unused State map pages . For example, California’s would have been San Diego, Sacramento, Bakersfield, and maybe Redding. (The large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco would have an entire page devoted to the city map. These didn’t factor into this project).

Everything in the middle is divided into three boxes. East Coast, West Coast and everything in the middle. I cut out all of the mid tier city rings from the entire atlas as a way to get a sense of proportion of mid sized cities in America. This, in no way, reflects on the population dispersion in the States, but the difference in density of ‘city rings’ is curious and could make for competing narratives.

During the process of cutting out the ‘city rings’ they were set aside in their respective stacks, Because the paper was so thin and delicate the stacks of ‘city rings’ became very full of depth and airy and it was this quality of presentation that I then tried to replicate. In order to achieve this I developed my acrylic glue formula that could be used in a hand spray bottle, much like spraying one’s orchids on a daily basis. It was a slow process. Two or three ‘city rings’ were sprayed down and then the project was set aside to dry.

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I WONDER…LOS ANGELES, 2017-18, map of Los Angeles + mixed media, 95 x 95 x 2 cm ea., diptych

Almost ten years later I found the time to get back to the Portland concept. I was very pleased with Portland and knew it would be a stepping stone to a larger scale work. This piece is also using the Thomas Bros. spiral bound guide that could have been found under the passenger seat of most vehicles during my time in LA. One possible way of thinking about this project is that the ‘city’ has been taken out of the ‘city grid’. The circle removed from the square. It is also worth mentioning that with this piece, time has softened my need for geographic rigidity. For I wonder...Los Angeles I did not feel the need to place each concave/convex square as it should literally fall on a true map of LA. Instead, they are laid out based on color.

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I WONDER…MOUNTAIN IN A DESERT, 2017-18, map of Los Angeles + mixed media, 91 x 130 x 2 cm

There is a lot of coded supporting information that goes into maps and map guides like the Thomas Bros. which can be as interesting as the map itself. The inspiration behind this work was taken from the Index of Symbols. The I wonder...mountain in a desert is the symbol of a mountain.

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STARS AND STRIPES, 2010 – 2013, acrylic and paper on canvas, 5.38 x 2.18 meters (17.6 x 7.15 feet), [50 x 40 cm (19.7 x 15.75 in) each, 50 canvases total]

The single most quality that helps us identify geography is shape. Take those boundaries away and an ambiguity sets in blurring relationships that allow us to ground ourselves. Take everything else away and the vastness and iconic territories are distilled only to the place names held within those borders.

This piece is about taking the context out of the 50 states in America. Each territory is giving the same size canvas and on that canvas are all the places names from that State, randomly scattered. From afar, density and color is now the gauge in identifying contextual localities. Up close, the jumble of names become familiar and repetitive.

[As one can imagine, this was a very slow process. Cutting out every single name/place from each State took a couple of years. When it came time to painting them down, I created a special box, that was the size of the canvas, where I could randomly drop the names without fear of losing any. Three or four tweezer full of names would be dropped onto the canvas and then the box would be removed and I would, without changing their location, find and flip all of the small bits that landed upside down. And then they were painted on to the canvas with the acrylic formula that I developed. Some States, Hawaii, Delaware, etc., went quickly...others like Pennsylvania, Texas and California were under the ‘drop box’ for many, many days.]

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I DID...STOP AND PROCEED , 2019, acrylic and paper on wood with electrics, 32 x 8 x 2 inches

The base: Most, if not all, of the conceptual work that I do relies on some sort of medium that has strong nostalgic qualities for most of us, myself included. My use of maps and the fact that I really enjoy working with maps, if I am to stop and think about it, most likely comes from my childhood Summer holidays. Both of my parents were school teachers and had the Summers off from work. On many, many occasions we (all five of us) would all pile into our Volkswagen van and travel for weeks, and on a couple of occasions make it to the East Coast and back. But before these trips, there was always the necessary errand to our local AAA for maps! We used to come back with loads of them. They were great. Brand new, which didn’t last long because I was not the only one without the skills and patience to fold them back properly. But that wasn’t the point. The point was seeing where we were going and where we were coming from and all the places that we could go but wouldn’t.

The medium: So maps, yes. But maps on skateboards?! How did I get here? I must have been building up to this, subconsciously, and it seems a natural fit actually, although I didn’t see it coming. I used to ride a skateboard, like most kids. All through the neighborhood, to my friends houses and also around the buildings (and sometimes inside them) on the College campuses. I think my name made it onto a list that the security officers had for getting busted one too many times. I also frequented The Pipeline in Upland on occasions to browse all their cool gear in the shop. The Pipeline was the peak of my skating career. It was only once that I paid to skate in the ‘bowls’ and it was this one time that I fell and broke my arm. And that was it for me and skateboarding.

The concept: My conceptual thinking behind the I did… series touches on the real connection the CMA has in it’s home at The Depot and being right on the rail line. I suppose these days the running of locomotives are remotely automated and the duties of a train engineer have drastically changed. There was a time, though, when it was very important for the engineers to understand the language of switching and position signals that are alongside the tracks. Clear. Approach. Advanced approach. Diverging clear. Restricting. Approach diverging. Stop and proceed. These are just some of the signal codes that are relayed through the lights pattern on the switching signs. And this is what I am touching on with these works.

The lines of map networks on the boards are bits of real American city/road systems that I have cut out and stitched together to make a fictional geographic network. The piece I did…permissive block, is using ‘city blocks’ cut out from the Los Angeles Thompson Bros. spiral bound guide book to fill the empty light bulb. I did…diverging clear and I did…stop and proceed have thinly cut road networks as ‘filament’ in the light bulbs.

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I DID...PERMISSIVE BLOCK , 2019, acrylic and paper on wood with electrics, 32 x 8 x 2 inches

 

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I DID...DISPLACEMENT ZERO , 2019, acrylic and paper on wood with electrics, 32 x 8 x 2 inches
I did…displacement zero is different from the ‘position signals’ works with light bulbs. This is a tetraptych and is California centric. It’s using the two pages that make up the state of California from the large bound atlas and is the antithesis of the piece Stars and Stripes.’

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