For most of us, it is not immediately evident that the highly decorative and precise nature of traditional mapmaking can find fresh ways of expression in contemporary graphic art. MacDonald (Max) Gill (1884 – 1947) was an artist of protean talents, creating astoundingly detailed images of the city of London with a confident finesse that was informed by his experience as an illustration, letterer, architect and mural painter. In recent years his work has gained a more diverse audience for its fusion of historical cartography with cutting edge design.
Most notable was Gill’s humorous and eccentric “Wonderground” map of London, which was commissioned by London Transport in 1913 and became so well loved that it was offered for sale to the general public in the following year. With this map, Gill sparked off a new trend in comic map-making that continues to find ardent fans in Britain, the United States, Latin America and Australia. He incorporated jokes, limericks, even poetry by Blake into these colourful and intricate depictions of the labyrinthine streets of London – and a sharper look at some of these stupefying pieces would no doubt continue to delight many today.
Max Gill’s maps will be on display at Kemistry Gallery in London until 4 May.