Stephanie Posavec is the artist behind the mapping of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In a recent attempt to explore both the nature of mapping and alternative, non-textual representations of literature, Posavec created a stunning image that was representative of the sentence structure of the legendary Beat text.
Here, the artist speaks with Beatdom about her work and her feelings about Kerouac.
On Jack Kerouac…
I first became interested in Jack Kerouac when I was a teenager, when I started reading literature from the mid twentieth-century. I suppose that his work resonated with me because of the ideas of freedom, spontaneity, and excitement that you are just beginning to appreciate and yearn for at that age. I just loved his lengthy poetic sentences that swooped up and down in such a vibrant way about the most mundane of things, making you appreciate them in a new way. The reverence for life, joy, and excitement in his writing made me realise that I had millions of options in the world, and that I could lead a life that was equally colourful.
Living in Denver was probably what made me so interested in Jack Kerouac as a teenager, and especially interested in the novel On the Road. For high school, I went to a Catholic high school that used to be a home for boys decades before. I was your typical angst-ridden teenager who was frustrated with being in such a restrictive, conservative school, so learning that Neal Cassady had spent some time at my high school when it was a school for boys cheered me up immensely. Plus, it was just exciting to read about all these crazy things happening in a novel, and knowing EXACTLY where the streets were. There aren’t very many novels written about Denver, so this was brilliant for a teenager who thought Denver, Colorado was the middle of nowhere!
On Kerouac’s Work…
I would say that working so intensely on a project relating to Kerouac has changed my perception of him. Over all the time I spent analysing and re-analysing On the Road I would be frustrated with him on a personal level, as if I knew him, becoming annoyed at certain literary tics and turns of speech that he would use repeatedly throughout the novel. I think analysing the work of your heroes so closely makes you realise that they are, in fact, human, and I’m happy for that, because it helps you in understanding the place and time they lived in. I feel like I understand him on a human level now rather than a ‘hero’ level. I enjoy his writing because I love his character sketches, his quick depictions of social scenes, and how it feels like he isn’t hiding things from the reader when retelling the story, but recounting everything, regardless of whether he is proud of it or not.
On the Map…
‘Writing Without Words’ was the project completed for my final year on the MA Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London, in 2006. The intention of this body of work was to explore various methods of visualising literature without using words. I wanted to find a way of communicating the complexity found in literature as well as highlight the similarities and differences in the writing styles of various authors.The structure of a novel, punctuation, parts of speech, and words per sentence were used to generate the final complex patterns.
Any piece of literature can be visualised using these approaches, but I chose to focus on the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac because I wanted to analyse a piece of literature I was truly passionate about.
All of the work is colour-coded according to key themes and characters in On the Road. The colours were chosen from automobile paint swatches from the 1940s. The books that were created as part of the project are even created to the same ratio of proportions of the first edition of On the Road. Everything in the project was there for a reason, and the majority of the aesthetic choices were drawn from the era when Kerouac was travelling across the United States.
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‘On the Map’ with Susan Stockwell, Pauline Burbidge, Betty Pepper, Kerr | Noble, Phyllis Pearsall, and Paula Amaral.
At the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield until the 15 June 2008
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…