Nancy Graves, American, 1939 - 1995
Untitled (Heat Density Measurement of a Cyclone), 1974
Watercolor, gold leaf, and graphite on paper
22 ½ × 30 in. (57.2 × 76.2 cm)
Work on paper (Drawing)
Gift of the Nancy Graves Foundation in honor of Janie C. Lee

© Nancy Graves Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
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Nancy Graves was a multidisciplinary artist based in New York. She worked in painting, drawing, and sculpture with equal import, along with the occasional project in film and set design.


In the early 1970s, Graves made a selection of works based on images from the most advanced visual mapping technologies of the day including the data mined from satellites and sonar. Such systems are used to animate information like the depths of the oceans as well as the distances between stars. Indeed, in the 1960s there were significant developments in cartography, oceanography, and seismology. One needs only to think of the first photograph of Earth as seen from space—made available to the public in 1968—to understand the shift in how and why artists increasingly became interested in the intersection between science and imaging. Graves adapted such photographs into her paintings and drawings by rendering them in her own hand.


For Untitled (Heat Density Measurement of a Cyclone), Graves’s source material comes from the development of a cyclone as captured by a meteorological satellite. Through color coding, the satellite image is not only visible phenomena, like the shape of the rotating winds, but infrared occurrences such as the dispersion of heat, which can help predict the cyclone’s intensity and trajectory. Graves’s drawing includes features like the gridlines that are used to help map locational coordinates. Importantly, gridlines are also used as a device to transfer pictures at different scales from one support to another and to guide proportional drawing. Here, Graves knowingly engages with techniques of draftsmanship that assist how to depict visual phenomena on the flat plane of a paper or canvas.