“Ed Fairburn is a Welsh artist, based in Cardiff, whose ability to combine the geography of our facial features with the geography of the earth leads to a startling and compelling synthesis of the two. Fairburn has become known in Europe for his evocative portraits, which produce complex human features from the apparently random patterns found in mundane topographical and astrological maps.
The beauty lies in how natural this marriage of forms feels. The synchronicity of the patterns between the geographical and the human serves to remind us of how united they are underneath their apparent differences. In expanding a human visage to the scale of Germany (as in Deutschland) or of all of North America (as he did in North America I and II), Fairburn is telling a story about the extent to which we are actually microcosms of the universe.
His series of astronomically themed portraits makes the point more explicitly, in pieces such as Der Gestirnte Himmel (The Starry Heavens) series. Over these circular star-maps, Fairburn’s pencil sketched portraits humanize the night sky – a modern update of our most ancient impulses to mythologize the constellations.
In his hands, both built infrastructure and natural phenomena echo the organic human form. National highway systems become capillaries, and the tangle of Paris’ alleyways become the wrinkles that give the face history and individuality. We see how complex systems, from the very small to the very large, repeat patterns that, while ostensibly random, follow a common logic of growth and life. Like a sculptor, Fairburn’s patterns cut away unnecessary detail to reveal the underlying relationships of form in a new way.
In many ways, we are living a golden age of map making, with interactive, richly textured electronic mapping technologies giving us unprecedented, real time detail. But it is also good to be reminded that, despite the benefits of this Google-era hyperliterality, there is a broader beauty to be found in the ways we visualize our common spaces. Maps can speak to much more than how to get from one place to another.”
– James McBride of IPaintMyMind