Shady Artist Makes Crazy Abstract Maps, Stars In Documentary

October 22, 2014 | Rhett Jones

Denis Wood is an obscure cartographer who approaches mapmaking as a form of abstract art — “the map as poem.” A new documentary, Unmappable, hopes to bring a greater spotlight to Wood’s work while dealing with the uncomfortable fact that Wood is a registered sex offender.

Predominantly working in his own neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wood will create a map of all the pumpkins laid out during Halloween or a map showing all of the graffiti in the area and describing it’s content. More abstract maps push things even further by charting the sound of barking dogs and wind chimes.

Raised by an anarchist father, Wood hates rules and authority, an attitude that he’s carried into his work. He tells the filmmakers that he intentionally screws with the rigid format of the map:

The scale, the legend, all that stuff, they’re authority trappings, they’re like badges on a cop. They say, ‘I am a serious cartographic document and you are to take me seriously’. That’s a bunch of crap, and I wanted to get rid of it.

His anti-authority streak has manifested in disturbing ways, though. Most notably, he was convicted of sex crimes involving a 16-year-old boy and he makes no apologies about it, claiming they were in love. When Wired asked the filmmakers, Diane Hodson and Jasmine Luoma, if they are afraid of glorifying Wood, they said that they’ve given it a lot of thought:

We believe showing positive aspects of Denis’ character does not glorify him when you consider other aspects of the film—such as the difficult scene where Denis speaks about his relationship with the boy. Denis is who he is—unapologetically so—so we do not make any apologies for him nor do we condone his offense in any way.

You can see the trailer for the embedded above, as well as a gallery of some of his works.

(Photo: Adam Greenfield)