ARTS & CULTURE
08/15/2013 08:37 am ET Updated Nov 01, 2013

Artist Spends 50 Years Creating Massive Map Of Imaginary Cities

Vimeo

In 1963, a man named Jerry Gretzinger began sketching and painting a map for a fictional world, populated by land masses and buildings that originated in his mind. Every day he would add to the expanding map, crafting green spaces and neighborhoods that eventually grew into made-up cities like “Plaeides" and “Ukrainia.” Essentially, he was creating an analog version of SimCity.

Fast forward 50 years and Michigan-born Gretzinger is still working on that same map. The dedicated cartographer has turned a single sheet of obsessive drawings into a massive, 2,000-foot artwork known as Jerry's Map. It's the subject of a touching documentary by Gregory Whitmore, available on Vimeo for all to see.

"The map began as just a doodle. I just made little rectangles and cross-hatched them carefully. And I just kept adding more rectangles and I put a river in and some railroad stations," Gretzinger explains in the film. "But there was this moment when I came to the edge of that sheet of paper and got out another sheet of paper and I put the two together... That's when I realized that it kind of had a life of its own."

From rivers and railroad stations, he moved to farmlands, airports, capital buildings, cemeteries and beyond, constructing an entire universe of civilizations with the flick of a brush. He paints his microcosms on over 2,600 sheets of paper, cataloguing new facilities and landmarks in both a carbon copy-based archival system and a computer spreadsheet, turning towns into cities, cities into metropolises, with no end in site for his ever-changing world.

"It's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge," he explains in the film. "You never finish."

The massive project has undergone many transformations since its beginnings, thanks to a clever card game Gretzinger created to make modifications to his fictional communities. Using his custom deck of cards, he determines at random whether some commercial real estate will be inserted onto an empty green space or a "void" will take over an already developed area -- a massive white space that deletes all of his progress in a given sector.

"It's a new world for me," he muses. "My hand puts the paint on the paper and then I stand back and say, 'Wow,' as if I were not the perpetrator. I'm just the observer."

Gretzinger plans on continuing the project for at least another 20 years, which is good news for all the fans who've just recently discovered the man's inspiring work. Watch the video above and let us know your thoughts on Jerry's Map in the comments. You can also check out a Google-esque, interactive online version of the map, sent to us courtesy of Jerry's son, Henry, here.

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