London-born artist Matthew Picton, who lives and works in Ashland, Oregon, is best known for his spidery sculptures of the cracked surfaces of alleys and roads. In those works, Picton traces the cracks' forking contours, creating material representations of the pavement's splits and gaps—literally, sites of absence. Of his work, Picton has said, "In many ways, I am essentially discovering a world of preexisting drawings." His role, then, is to observe and transcribe, to extract and exalt the beauty we pass over every day, literally beneath our feet.
Picton's new body of work applies nearly all of the same methodologies, but dramatically refocuses his perspective to encompass a macrocosmic view. Instead of zooming in on the splintered surfaces of roads, he examines the roads themselves, meticulously sculpting maps of some of the world's largest cities, from Caracas to Stockholm. Occupying a precarious place between the traditional two-dimensional map and three-dimensional sculpture, these pieces are layered and circuitous weaves of the cities' streets, transit lines, and natural features, held in place by round-headed pins. From a distance, they appear to be flat and exacting representations of the places they depict. But as a viewer nears them and perceives their depth, they dissolve into abstraction. No longer communicating orientation or place, they become aesthetic signifiers of disorientation: The only information they reveal—the interplay of bright, bold colors and the wispy shadows cast by its many layers—is sensory.
As the various avenues and routes intersect in a complex network of lines, these map sculptures adopt a biomorphic quality, connoting veins and cellular systems. Calling to mind the phrase "the heart of the city," they appear like organisms. (The boundaries of Amsterdam actually resemble the shape of a human heart.) That these images at once represent a removed aerial vantage point and suggest a microscopic view is important metaphorically, reminding that cities are brought to life by the constellation of relationships that compose them. Like his sculptures derived from cracked surfaces, Picton's maps isolate and estrange the familiar patterns of our world—re-imagining them as transgressive drawings, not just boundaries.