Gretzinger’s Map Sounds Like a Theorem But Is Actually Beautiful Mini-Documentary

Carolyn’s Team Pick:

Since 1963, Jerry Gretzinger has been imagining and re-imagining an imaginary map. It’s currently over 1,600 square feet, and it began as just a doodle:

“The map began as just a doodle. I just made little rectangles, and cross-hatched them, carefully, and I just kept adding more rectangles and I put a river in and some railroad stations, but there was this moment when I came to the edge of that sheet of paper, and got out another sheet of paper and put the two of them together, and I taped them together. That’s when I kind of realized, it had a life of it’s own.”

He has over 2,000 panels, many of which have been scanned and repainted with their originals archived. He has a spreadsheet with town populations, and cards that say things like “new forest” and “scan” and “the void” that tell him what is happening to the map that day. In the early 1980s, he wanted to experiment so he introduced collages (at different points, the map involves ink, pencil, acrylic paint, marker, collage, gouache, and watercolour, on paper and board).

There is also a mini-documentary, called “The Mapping of Jerry Gretzinger from 1963 to the Stopping Point,” which is available on Vimeo, or you can just watch it:

He also says:

“With 2,000 sheets that are being worked on over time, it’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge — you never finish.”

And:

“Yes, it’s alive. It changes. My hand puts the paint on the paper and then I step back and say, wow, look at that, as if I was not the perpetrator. I’m just an observer. I’m good for another 20 years, probably.”

In some ways, I am intensely curious about random details of his life in the same way I want to look at pictures of writer’s desks (for the record, Gretzinger’s studio looks like this). Probably having a map that covers over 40 by 40 square feet that you’ve been working on for almost 40 years makes at least a little bit of a difference in the way you view the world. Gretzinger has a blog, which is how I know that he sometimes makes miniature tile versions of the map and leaves them in places for people to find, and that he sells prints and original panels on eBay or at art exhibits (after making copies first), and that he’s sometimes had friends in as guest artists since 2004. …But that’s it. On the other hand, it’s almost more interesting this way.

Feature image via Jerry’s Map.


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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. This is my favorite thing I have read on Autostraddle. I’ve been a true believer for a while now, but now I’m sure you’re doing something magical and different.

    I love that he realized that “all these people need to eat.”

    I hope when he dies he gets to go to this place, and they will worship him as a king-like combination of Dumbledore/your grandpa/Bruce Springsteen.

  2. So I just finished the video and I think it’s both crazy and awesome that this guy has made up all these rules for the creation of this map. He’s the creator but also an observer as the map comes to life.

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