Some artists are remembered for their works and others for their lives—and especially for the juicy anecdotes they leave behind for doctoral students and biographers to pick over. The latest from Milan-based design studio Accurat plots the trajectories of the 20th century’s greatest painters in one sprawling infographic—and does it in a way that makes it easy for you to see the differences in temperament. For all of Picasso’s flamboyance and chauvinistic flair, you get Jackson Pollock’s brooding reticence.
"Visualizing Painters’ Lives" charts biographical details from the careers of Miro, Klee, Dalí, and others along horizontal bars, in a manner resembling musical notation. An assortment of visual markers—each of which bears different typological shapes, including hearts demarcating lovers and picture frames for exhibitions—embellish each artist’s timeline.
The complex tableaux is elaborately detailed and meant to be observed up close in order to properly unspool the events, art, and relationships that shaped the artists and their spectacular works. The strategy, which Accurat has employed several times before, uses minimalist graphics and little or no text to accomplish its aim.
Yet the project represents a turn in the studio’s work, Accurat head Giorgia Lupi tells Co.Design: Where previous works, including several visualizations for La Lettura, the cultural supplement to Milan’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, are exercises in what’s been called "data journalism," or what Lupi prefers to call "info-spatial journalism," "Visualizing Painters’" is something different. With no reporting or datasets to fall back on, but also freed from journalistic parameters and the need to convey causal relationships, the designers were able to experiment with the form of the visualization itself. They also had a more simpler goal, Lupi says: "[To make] beauties with new visual metaphors that [would] let us experiment with uncommon visual models."
For "Visualizing Painters," Accurat created one master visualization on which all the artists are mapped; in addition to this, the studio developed an individual chart for every one of the 10 painters. The two types are identical in form, though the latter contains more detail about the specifics of the painters’ own artistic production. As Lupi explains, this is represented "through the total of paintings divided per year and periods, and through an in-depth exploration of main masterpieces illustrating main colors and art board size."
A pictogram, composed of visual elements from an artist’s oeuvre, anchors each artist’s timeline. (Think primary colors and overlapping planes for Mondrian; triangles, circles, and polygons for Kandinsky.) A block quote balances the opposite end. Various other symbols populate the rows—they represent both the consequential (schooling, military service) and inconsequential (handedness, astrological signs).
Also important: The timelines contextualize the aesthetic periods that each artist passed through and/or adopted. Matisse had the most varied portfolio, with a curious, experimental eye that could be mistaken for someone who had the erratic temperament of a dabbler—though we’re talking Matisse here. (Of course, that could easily be said of Dalí, who rapidly leaped from Neoclassicism and Surrealism to Neo-Baroque and everything in-between.)
Of similar interest is how the Accurate team weaves a web of connections that link the artists together. All roads, it seems, lead to Picasso, while Klimt and Boccioni appear to have operated as rogue players. Paris was the venue in which all the painters would work and, from time to time, pass one anothers’ paths. And probably the most striking tidbit? "The only painter with no love affairs reported seems to be Mondrian," Lupi says. What, no love for right angles?