Maps have long held a fascination for Perry. His first etching, Map of an Englishman, showed an imaginary island on which the artist mapped out his own mind and emotional landscape. The idea for his third large-scale etching, Map of Nowhere, came from a book of medieval European maps of the world or Mappae Mundi. One of its illustrations showed a life-size replica of the Ebstorf map of Northern Germany, which was destroyed during the Second World War. This showed Christ’s body girding the world with his head at the top, his hands to the side and his feet underneath. Perry liked the composition and used this device for his own map of the world, but replaced Christ with his own self-portrait. The hubris of ‘I am the world’ appealed to him and has prompted his daughter to comment wryly that he is ‘putting himself forward as God’. For Perry ‘all art is self-portraiture’, but with his map the artist is also expressing his strong reservations about concrete beliefs. The title of the print comes from Thomas More’s Utopia, a title derived from the Greek ou topos, meaning ‘no place’, somewhere that does not exist. Perry rejects the notion that life is an ongoing process leading towards something – let alone God. This finds its visual expression by the placement of a little island labelled ‘doubt’ at the centre of the etching. Doubt – ‘the essence of civilization’ – has taken the place of Jerusalem, the Holy City and focal point in its medieval precursors. Pilgrims, a recurrent motif in Perry’s work, make their way towards the island. They appear again on the plain underneath the map ‘gathering for their final push before they go up to the monastery’ on the hill behind them. The coffin in the foreground is a reminder that not all will make it.
For Perry, Map of Nowhere ‘is like a mood board of what was going on in my head at the time’. The captions, which he picked from various books he was reading during that period, touch on contemporary themes and concerns, some of which are distinctively British, such as health and safety gone mad or property ladder. The linking of word and image in the print follows Perry’s own intuition, though their relation can appear arbitrary. The intention for each connection between word and image is to achieve an association that is unsettling. Some turned out to be prophetic, such as ‘a flooded little third-world village’ captioned as free market economy, and casino capitalism as a Taliban. The print was made well before the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2008 and the economic crisis that ensued. Contemporaneity and localism are very important to Perry: ‘Though I make things that look old I always make them about now. I think there is a trend in contemporary art to make things that are for a global audience and I don’t think it is very healthy. It is much more interesting if you make things for your own tribe. I make tribal art for the metropolitan chattering classes’. Perry also pokes fun at himself. The light coming out of his rectum and shining on to the monastery plays on the idiom he thinks the light shines out of his arse, an illustration of Perry’s self-deprecating sense of humour. Map of Nowhere is very much in tune with the zeitgeist, and like its medieval precursors a record of the culture of its time.
As with his previous prints, Perry made a small sketch of the basic design in his notebook and then a rough life-sized outline drawing on paper. This he could place underneath the acetate film used to transfer the final drawing on to the etching plates. From time to time he would slide other bits of paper underneath as guidance for detail, such as for the figure on the right inspired by Indian anatomical drawings. The drawing was transferred by light exposure on to five copper plates. Perry decided that the central part of the print should all be on one plate to minimize any visual disruption to his design. All five plates were printed in one printing by Mike Taylor and Simon Marsh of Paupers Press in London. Perry preferred the plates not to be wiped clean too heavily as he liked the tonal effect of the excess ink on the print.
Three colour versions were printed at the same time, in red, blue and purple. These were printed in smaller editions of 15 each. Perry also chose colours for the frames to go with these colour versions, a light blue for the red, an acid yellow for the blue and a warm egg-yolk yellow for the purple version. The same moulding was used that Perry designed for his first print Map of an Englishman.
The scale of the print, large but not too large for a private house – ‘domestic grand scale’ as Perry puts it – is very important to him as when making his prints he very much has a domestic setting in mind.