Into the Ocean with Veronica Graham

April 18, 2017 by

Looking at the swiftly changing human footprint on the American West and, more specifically, her home in the Bay Area, Veronica Graham transcribes her curiosity and concern into her own fictional narrative.  In the silkscreen studio, she printed and bound her newest artist’s book, The Map of Neighboring Bodies, a journey and investigation into territorial divides across open waters.

“The question is: what do I see in the world?” Veronica asks. “What is being yelled at me and what is being whispered? I want to express my experience of the world—one that I do not think is uncommon—but still is my experience.”

A master screen printer and co-founder of the art and design studio Most Ancient, Graham has addressed through her practice how what she calls the “human whimsy” and waves of cultural and economical fads have lasting impact on the landscape. The Map of Neighboring Bodies is a nautical extension of an earlier, adventure game-inspired project, The Map of Neighboring Territories, which plays across the mythical terrain in an accordion-bound book. Now, having already conquered land in her previous work, Veronica turned to the sea for her Art-in-Ed Artist’s Book Grant Residency.

Interested in conquests over the unbound oceans and the resulting natural, political, mythical, and historic boundaries, Veronica created a map of environments both imaginary and recognizable to viewers. Beginning with a kelp forest and lost continent, an intertwined space of science and fantasy, readers then land ashore a booming port city. The book continues through the disputed territories of polar waters and into an archipelago of regionally-bound, culturally divergent islands.

Constructed in Veronica’s signature style—colorful, tightly gridded symbols—these environments are constrained to five colors. Multiple systems of hand drawn iconography are meticulously printed in precise, overlapping registers while more isolated illustrations of planes and cargo ships seem to float above the surface. Throughout the book Veronica layers colors and changes ink opacity to stretch the limits of her palette.

For the final print, Veronica reversed the rigid order of the book, running four inks together into a gradient. A split fountain print, it is as technically demanding as the grids which make up the previous pages. All four colors were carefully pulled in the same pass and on the same screen, flowing together as though these imaginary spaces were suddenly washed away.

The accordion binding and block-like designs are a nod to vintage video games where players were suspended between the physical world and a scrolling, distorted digital adventure. Veronica explains, “For our generation, for me, video games were my first way of experiencing a new space, and it was in a rapid and compressed way. They were completely fictional spaces and we could jump in and out of these worlds.”

In The Map of Neighboring Bodies, similar multiple perspectives run throughout the pages, placing readers between states of viewing in a spatially dissonant, carefully composed new environment. From a god’s eye view, they look down at a sea where fish are presented sideways, a tourist beach flows next to an arctic expedition, and symbols indicating a new territory hover over the water.

Using a sunset key in the front of the book, readers can decode The Map of Neighboring Bodies and find what a fictional population has regulated, traversed, commodified, and abandoned across a continuous seascape. However, this invented space offers a condensed reflection of reality. Each space was designed after months of research—or, as Veronica says, “Many, many trips to the library”—on topics ranging from ancient cartography to American maps to sunken vessels. She dismantled, categorized, and converted her findings into pictograms, then drew her own boundaries onto the world. 

When asked if she prioritized representing any one type of territory in her book, Veronica responds that she allotted the most space to the open sea itself. An abstract series of waves begins at the map key, connects the edges of each print, spans the back of each page, then reconnects to the outside covers. This current winds cyclically through The Map of Neighboring Bodies, lingering by islands and along the coasts, then coursing back to the beginning again. 

To purchase your copy of The Map of Neighboring Bodies, head to our Newest Titles Page!

Veronica Graham is an Oakland-based printmaker, designer, and graphic artist who also works under the moniker Most Ancient. She draws her inspiration from the rapidly changing Californian landscape, marked by historic endeavors, natural formations, migration, and industrialization. Veronica holds her BA in Painting and Printmaking from San Diego State University. View more photos from her residency on our Flickr!