These Stunning, Encyclopedic Collages Are A Guidebook To Human Knowledge

From the solar system to human anatomy, Casey Cripe’s handmade layered art pieces are “living documents” that explore different facets of life on this planet.

Casey Cripe thinks big. The San Francisco-based artist, who makes stunning layered collages exploring everything from human anatomy to the solar system, first started wondering about the nature of the universe as a child. He asked himself why no one had created a comprehensive “guidebook to life”–or if they had, why it wasn’t widely known. And then he started working on his own version.


“At age 25 I dropped out of art school, schemed a self-directed study curriculum, and began in earnest a thesis project designed to unfold and evolve over a lifetime–a one-and-forever magnum opus,” Cripe writes.

During four years of work, Cripe has created over 25 collages, all part of the larger project that’s meant to be displayed as a group. Each work explores some area of human knowledge in detail.

He finds fodder for the artwork everywhere. “I collect imagery–diagrams and illustrations, mostly,” he writes. “I trawl municipal libraries, bookstores, second-hand shops, the world wide web, scanning and extracting from stacks and stacks and stacks of cultural artifacts of all genres.” Cripe says his brain is “hard-wired for pattern recognition over-drive,” and as he carefully sorts through the images he finds, he categorizes them and creates narratives he calls “maps of [his] encyclopedic explorations.”

Each collage is handmade, with a combination of paper glued on wood, paint, and pencil. The artworks “are designed to be living documents, growing and evolving through time,” he explains.

Here’s an excerpt from his poetic explanation of what it all means:

It is a reflection of my own human existence,
the history of our species,
the evolution of Life on Earth,
the living narrative of Universe.
It is also a knowledge & memory prosthetic to aid in thinking & understanding,
a platform from which to ask questions, engage in dialogue with self and others.
It is a window & mirror, a telescope & microscope.
It is a way of seeing, living, being.
It is a map of, and for, my path,
each our individual paths,
Our path.

Cripe is beginning work for a solo show and will soon have high-quality prints available for sale. One of his collages is up now in a group show at Mirus Gallery in San Francisco.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."