Fantasy and reality meet in The Atlas of Experience, a series of maps that portrays our voyage through life and has become an international success.
In a small storefront in the heart of Amsterdam, we spoke with Sebastiaan Rompa and Robert Blauwkuip, cocreators of The Atlas of Experience. Like traditional cartographers, they enjoy drawing and playing around with roads, rivers, seas, islands and cities. But these cartographers interpret their work in an unusual manner. Instead of charting geology or settlement patterns, they depict the inner world.
The atmosphere in this workroom is laid back. After a long wait for coffee, Blauwkuip looks in the kitchen and then declares dryly, “The coffee is running, but the coffee pot isn’t under it.” Rompa and Blauwkuip have known each other since high school and together own Meteor Press, which publishes the “associative cartographic production” they call The Atlas of Experience.
It offers cartographic reflections of our thoughts, experiences, feelings, passions, joy, sadness, love and hatred – in short, the total human experience. “We give other meanings to topographical concepts,” Rompa says. “A city in the atlas is not called Amsterdam but Change. The sea is not the Atlantic Ocean but the Sea of Possibilities. We create a different map of the world, in which reality and fantasy go hand in hand. We don’t chart the earth, but existence itself.”
As teenagers, Rompa and Blauwkuip drew maps and dreamed of outlandish adventures. Later they both worked for the publisher Robas, in the cartography section. There they made maps, atlases and route planners, but missed the manual craftsmanship, so appealing to the imagination, found in antique maps. After drifting from one publisher to the next and to other jobs – Blauwkuip even became a dentist – in 2002 they once again joined forces to design maps that show the wisdom, universal principles and little jokes of the inner world.
When not a single publisher was interested, they decided to go it alone and started Meteor Press. To date, The Atlas of Experience, available in hardcover and paper editions and translated into 17 languages, has sold more than 200,000 copies in the Netherlands and almost that number in the rest of the world. Sales of the new “Cartography of Love” and other posters based on the atlas have also been brisk.
In addition, Meteor Press designs customized maps of routes and goals for businesses, including KLM, Ford, General Motors and IBM. “There are lots of businesses that write marvelous annual reports full of great plans that subsequently disappear into a drawer,” Rompa says. “When you hang the route to be traveled on your office wall in the form of a map, you are reminded of your mission every day in a playful way.” To have your own personal map, go to www.worldsofexperience.com for instructions on how to design it and to receive a printed version by mail.
Rompa attributes the international success of the maps to their ability to tap into basic human experience and to stimulate associative thinking. “Life is a voyage,” he says. “Everyone needs a map that shows where you stand now, where you want to go and how you can get there.”