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February 27, 2013

Community mapping

The essential purpose of a map is to help the reader find their way from A to B. But maps also contain a mass of information and detail that can add colour and pleasure to a journey – especially if the cartographer has an unusual eye for detail. The community trust in Portree on Skye decided they wanted to portray their community in a different way and commissioned an artist to bring his own unique talents to bear on the age old craft of cartography.


Stornoway Gazette, 4/2/04

Visitors to the Isle of Skye will be able to see the island like it has never been presented before, thanks to a set of two stunning maps drawn by acclaimed artist J. Maizlish Mole, in a new commission by ATLAS Arts and The Portree Area Community Trust (PACT). 

The maps are objects of art but also playful navigation tools for the Isle of Skye as a whole, and the town of Portree in particular. By incorporating elements of local oral knowledge and culture into the map, the curators and artist hope to set a benchmark for how stunning locations can be brought to life through the eyes of people who live there and visit. The maps have been described as ‘a love song to Skye’, by Emma Nicolson, Director at ATLAS Arts. Artist J. Maizlish Mole has spent weeks painstakingly walking and driving routes in the Isle of Skye to create these two maps in his unique style – one for the town of Portree, and another one for the island. The maps will be displayed in Skye’s main town centre, as public art, on information boards. Print copies will be available as of this April. 

To create the map for Portree, Mole – who in 2011 created a similar work for Edinburgh as a commission by the Edinburgh Art Festival – walked in and around town for two weeks, taking in its streets, landmarks, walking trails, quirks, amenities, landscapes and history. Following this, ATLAS Arts & PACT decided to expand the project and commissioned him to create a second map of the Isles of Skye and Raasay – and he embarked on a driving journey through Skye’s diverse terrain. Mole’s working process is unique: he walks the route several times and then hand-draws the map from memory, to scale, building in personalised annotations of the elements that he has learnt along the way through both personal experience and locals’ knowledge. Sites like ‘Huge Supermarket’ appear alongside the more unusual ‘ghost trail’, an old route mentioned by locals which he discovered by spotting the remains of the track in Google Earth. He describes his mapping work as plotting out cityscapes – or in this case ruralscapes – as they are lived in and remembered. 

On January 31st the maps will be unveiled across information panels in Portree. Copies will also be available for hotels and tourist businesses to offer to locals and visitors as of April. ATLAS Arts will also be producing limited edition prints. 

Artist J. Maizlish Mole said: “These two drawings represent the Isle of Skye and the Portree area as I experienced them on a series of solo expeditions during May, June and October of 2012. Each of these drawings is a memory map in the borrowed form of a road map. They plot out the subjective shape of a travelled-through, marvelled-at, remembered landscape. Although this process results in more or less accurate, navigable maps, the objective along the way is always the mapping out of the lived experience and the impression left, rather than of the terrain itself.” 

Emma Nicolson, Director of ATLAS Arts, co-commissioners of the maps, said: “We’re delighted to have had Mole working with the community in bringing the streets and landscapes of Portree and Skye to life. For years Skye has been a source of inspiration to artists, and we’re incredibly proud of supporting local and visiting talents that are adding to the real wealth of cultural experiences in the island. We can’t wait for the maps points in Portree. The artist is also a singer-songwriter and what he has created here is like a love song to Skye!”

Ross Cowie, Chairman of the Portree Area Community Trust (PACT), said: “When so much knowledge is generated through the electronic highway, it is really refreshing and innovative to be involved in a project which is both three-dimensional and combines art with information. It will stimulate interest and debate and will be most informative for visitors.”