Today’s modern maps may have everything plotted to perfection, but the allure of parts unknown still lives on for artist Val Britton.
Inspired by cartography, her paper collage paintings and installations imagine an expressionistic take on the open road, conflating highways and constellations. “I like to tease out the language of maps and interpret it in my own hand,” says Britton.
We spoke with the San Francisco artist about what makes her tick — from her city’s geographical quirks, to the endless joy of paper.
What kinds of maps have you used to inspire your work?
I have a large collection now — interstate maps, topographical maps, maps of the stars and the ocean floor. I love earthquake maps from this area, as well as maps of San Francisco’s ghost coastlines. If you walk around downtown, you can still find along the sidewalks little markers showing where the old coast was during the Gold Rush era.
Tell us about a piece that turned out differently than how you expected:
I feel like all of my work is a surprise. But I could say working on “Voyage,” my installation for the San Francisco International Airport, surpassed all my expectations. I worked with Franz Mayer, of Munich, Germany, on these massive glass panels so big you couldn’t actually work on them all at once. I didn’t see all the work together until it was installed, and I was so delighted with how they managed to create all the unusual colors I use.
If you could get feedback on your work from anyone, who would it be and why?
A little meeting with Matisse with be mind-blowing. His paper collages have been a huge inspiration.
My morning routine consists of:
My daughter waking me up, and enjoying our family time in the morning. Then I come to the studio, where I like to have something up that I’ve been previously working on, so I have somewhere to begin. While I work I listen to a lot of music and podcasts. I’ve been trying to expand my musical horizon, so I’m really into Spotify and playlists. I like an eclectic mix.
What’s one destination you always tell your friends to add to their bucket list?
Berlin! I went there with my husband, and we were totally smitten. It’s beautifully urban, with a mix of old and new.
Tell us about your all-time favorite piece in your home.
I love the Niall McClelland black laser copier piece we bought when we got married. He would fold up the paper in different ways and walk around with it in his pocket. When he unfolded it, all those rubbed-out areas made beautiful line work.
What’s the story behind the best gift you’ve ever received?
Since the fires, we’ve talked a lot about what we would take with us if we’d had to leave home. I’ve realized that so much is replaceable, except photos and videos of our family, and artwork. And some silly stuff handed down to me, like my grandfather’s cigar boxes, where I keep my collage pieces.
The best piece of advice I ever received was…
To just believe in yourself and trust yourself. Can’t go wrong with that.