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Mapping the Night

Published on: 17 February, 2008


Figure 1. Digital photograph of the north wall of the artist’s studio displaying a Celestial Map plotted and drawn by David W. Teske in 1972. Note that the astronomical illustrations have been added to the sides of the map, echoing the panel arrangements in maps pictured in Vermeer paintings.

Astronomical charts hang in my studio. They often appear in my drawings as dark rectangular fields; like windows into some parallel night. For example, the one at center of my drawing Self-Portrait with Long Night is a large star map with hand-plotted points marking stars of different sizes on a deep indigo field (Figure 1). What a labor of love for the cartographer who marked the heavens by hand with 5,172 dots of light, noting brightness and inscribing beside each a reference number. Another chart that is seen in my drawing Daffodils with Astronomical Chart, dates to the mid 19th century and was originally used to teach astronomy (Figure 2). In it, comets and other celestial phenomena are reduced to striking minimal shapes in black and white. The engraved images are arranged in a grid, much like my night drawings pervade the grid of the window. Author Peter Turchi first drew my attention to the phrase “private astronomy”, once used to describe jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke who was seen “gazing off into his private astronomy, blowing something pretty.” The phrase seemed on the mark to me; I do feel I am a private astronomer mapping my way through the night. Watching the lights move and grow and die through the seasons and years. The maps that surround me echo my search that starts locally and stretches out into the night as far as one imagines.


Figure 2. Digital photograph of the west wall of the artist’s studio with two framed pages from the Atlas Designed to Illustrate Burritt’s Geography of the Heavens, Elijah H. Burritt, this edition published 1856.

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