Artist's Statement: Stephen Walter on Anthropocene at Londonewcastle Space

| 29 June 2013 | Updated: 28 June 2013

Artist's Statement: Anthropocene, the title of Stephen Walter's forthcoming show at Londonewcastle Project Space, relates to the current, human activity-dominated geological age. The artist tells us more...

A photo of a male artist working at a dimly-lit desk
© Lars Borges
“My work is an investigation into the pictorial representation of landscape, maps and semiotics – the phenomenon of place through mainly drawing, photography and printmaking.

Each work is an intricate world in itself, a tangle of words and symbols, epithets and drawn marks that form a complex of hidden meanings and wider contradictions.

They are windows onto the world outside, the filter through which the viewer must look.

My work here still engages with the traditional forms of art in which objects hung on the walls are viewed by the solitary onlooker.

But the installation of London Subterranea, made with Cogapp in the end room, encourages interaction in a different way through the use of new technology, live projection and a zoom tool.

The exhibition brings together five years of production. I adopt certain historical and traditional symbols such as Utopia, the crucifix or the road through a forest, and rework them to reveal an underlying ambivalence at every turn. That runs throughout my entire practice.

One of my seminal moments came when I was packing up my materials in the screen-printing room one day at the Royal College of Art in 2001.

I had a week to go until my graduation show and I had booked the drawing studio for the following day.

I saw the technician scooping excess screen inks into a number of tins and I asked him what would happen to them.

‘They’re being sent to a landfill site’, was his response.

The next day I was to draw a forest of tree symbols over many hours in the form of a flag.

The embossed marks were transferred onto the underpaper, which was then used as an accompanying grave stone piece.

This followed on from a process that primarily used painting and screen printing to form compositions of expressive marks, repeating these compositions and paring them down time and time again.

I eventually came up with a set of abstract symbols, influenced by artists like Mondrian, Jean Arp and de Kooning.

I had turned the process on its head and started to use known symbols in the public domain to build up new images.

This is important not because it resulted in me becoming an artist particularly dealing with environmental concerns, but because it informed and changed my post-college practice in a radical way.

The semiotics of a public language of signs and symbols and the culture from which they came, and the politics of space, all started to enter my work.

The making of maps with their keys and accumulation of symbols and was a straightforward step to take.

The wasteful nature of my previous practices and the prolific amount of works it produced also had a bearing on this change. So did my concern for the weight and space needed for all that screen-printing equipment had I carried on in the same way.

That inherent material wastefulness is now given up to objects formed over many hours of work to one piece of paper.

These works are of frugal means. They are acts of moral awareness, where my ego plays second fiddle to the influences of others.

Such ideas also radiate with some of the great questions of our time – how do we satiate our current needs and desires in a sustainable future?

More specifically, where does the idealised landscape fall within this, along with the idea of a homeland and belonging? Is Northern European Romantic tradition dead? Is it now too self absorbed and parochial?

Contemporary western societies are destroying the environment beyond the extent of a sustainable lifestyle. In Britain, to live as we are at present, we require three times the amount of land than we actually have.

We, with our current lifestyles, are in many ways ‘the problem’. However, without us at all – well, we would be without ourselves.”

  • Stephen Walter: Anthropocene, presented by TAG Fine Arts, runs July 3-28 at Londonewcastle Project Space, Redchurch Street, London.

More pictures:

An image of a black line drawing of a forest
Holweg (2013)© Stephen Walter, courtesy TAG Fine Arts
An image of a map of a country drawn in black ink
Nova Utopia (2013)© Stephen Walter, courtesy TAG Fine Arts
An image of a black ink drawing of a densely packed outdoor civilisation
New Halewood (2013)© Stephen Walter, courtesy TAG Fine Arts
An image of a city seen overhead drawn in black ink
London Subterranea (2012)© Stephen Walter, courtesy TAG Fine Arts
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