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Meet Christopher Warren, the Colorado artist turning terrain into art for 10 years

Posted at 10:09 PM, May 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-09 15:48:01-04

LITTLETON — Drawing on experience from a life spent among scenic vistas and landforms of immense scale, one Colorado artist is transforming topography into breathtaking sculptures.

Christopher Warren, operator, and artist for Beatnik Prints, has been creating sculptures based on the design and layout of topographic maps for nearly a decade.

Born and raised in Durango, Colorado, Warren explains that growing up in the shadow of the San Juan Mountains paired with the great deal of time he spent exploring the desert of Southern Utah had an impact on how he views and approaches his art.

"it is a constant exploration of, 'let's see where we can take this, let's see what this can turn into,' and I can easily see that [came] from my life growing up in the mountains and the desert," said Warren.

So now he explores the world by translating topographical maps and their design elements into art.

Each sculpture is comprised of hundreds of laser-cut or CNC machined shapes (cut from wood or matboard) which are then layered on top of each other in order to achieve three dimensions.

"If you like puzzles, you would like this work," Warren commented, "because it's finding weird shapes in a big array of weird shapes [and] saying, I need this weird shape and it goes here and I need this weird shape and it goes there; but yeah, it's fun meditative work."

The sculptures are most often recreations and reimaginings of topographic maps, the data for which is pulled straight from the archives of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Warren says he started creating about ten years back while attending college at CU Boulder when a friend informed him that a library on campus was distributing expired USGS maps for free.

"I always thought it would look cool to color in the lines of a [topographic] map, so that's what I did."

Following that first experiment, Warren dove headlong into the world of art.

"Then it was finding that maker space where I could run my own laser cutter to create these layers; I started with paper and then matboard and then wood, that really helped push it into the fine art."

According to this artist, the proliferation of maker spaces in the towns that he's lived in for the past ten years has allowed him to push forward in his career as an artist.

"I can use a $10,000 machine for $50 a month, plus upkeep," said Warren.

For Warren, the art often feels as though he is highlighting various elements of the natural world for others, "I feel that's what I'm doing a lot of times with the maps; just, oh this is neat, I think you would think this is neat too."

One of his hopes is that people will see the work and realize that inspiration can come from any place.

"The whole concept of using maps as an art leaping point, I hope people see it and think, oh, anything can become art."

While all of Warren's art is crafted utilizing the techniques derived from turning a 2D topographical map into a 3D object (layering and pasting), not all of his art deals with maps.

Plenty of his art is abstract and more and more he's turning his sights toward creating shapes that encapsulate different elements of the human form.

Additionally, Warren has started experimenting with gathering his own data to transform into various sculptures; his hope there is to capture individual landforms with his layering technique just as he does for entire maps.

The exhibit displayed in the video attached above can be found at the Littleton Museum through May 11th; however, he also displays work regularly at Walker Fine Art in Denver.

For more information on Christopher Warren and Beatnik Prints, click here.