Stephen Walter re-maps London in Exposure Gallery show

By Ben Miller | 04 February 2010
A picture of a map of a river town drawn by hand

Exhibition: My London, Exposure Gallery, London, until March 2 2010

Dissecting the geographical vagaries of London is rarely an entertaining way to pass the time, unless you're Stephen Walter.

The artist's impish, sprawling maps of the city he was born in are scribbled drawings of the sort most readers wish would spring out at them from bland A-Z pages, observing every nook from the club and theatre lands of Camden and China Town to the "non-conformists, lesbians and prams" of Islington and the delights of Bromley ("leave this place").

A picture of an intricate map of a borough drawn by hand

Stephen Walter's vision of Camden

Walter's Island series is a collection of maps revealing the truth behind each of the 33 individual boroughs, amalgamated into one messy, meandering mass for the final scrawl.

It took two years to complete, informed by historical oracles including antique records, Peter Ackroyd's Biography of London and the traditional maps themselves, piecing together an idiosyncratic masterplan merging the capital's past and present.

A picture of an intricate map drawn by hand

Islington takes on a different look

"Physically, mentally and culturally, the things that we as a society leave behind tell us so much about how we live now," muses Walter, who says his spoof "challenges the impressions of the viewer" in an interpretive style he calls "sentimentally post-modern".

"The map is as much about the personality of its viewer as it is about my own – it acts as a mirror. It welcomes a sense of agitation and wonderment."

A picture of a fairytale-style design in dark red showing a couple standing at the end of a gate-led path with poetry written beneath

Rob Ryan, Can We Shall We

For Walter, London is "one of the greatest living palimpsests of our time", constantly reinventing itself.

He discovered the 1st Earl of Salisbury honeymooned in a modern-day "dodgy part" of Edmonton during the 16th century, and talks of "beauty and desire within the micro and macrocosms in which we live."

A picture of a work of art in blue with a black floral design running around the edge and poetry

Rob Ryan, I Opened My Heart

"He painstakingly deconstructed each London borough," says Hobby Limon of organisers TAG Fine Arts.

"It's fun to find the points at which his ideas and your own intersect. It maps your personality through your responses to the work – you get some of the jokes and judgements, but not others. It takes you from the London you see to the one he does."

These modern atlases are beginning to be seen for more than their subversive, cartoonish qualities.

A picture of the design for a fashion week poster showing the silhouette of a young woman against London's Tower Bridge in the background

Rob Ryan, London Bridge Lady

Having appeared at the Courtauld Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Walter has a major exhibition called Magnificent Maps at the British Library in April, and his work is displayed here alongside fellow artistic storyteller Rob Ryan, a craftsman of "overtly visual romanticism" who works in cut paper to form visceral, melancholic worlds of "love, hate, loss, pain, fear and death".

He uses scalpels to form intricate patterns, overwritten with spiralling poetry in a technique chosen by fashion bible ELLE for the front cover of its London Fashion Week edition last year.

All images courtesy TAG Fine Art

Exposure Gallery, Little Portland Street, London. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Friday. Admission free, visit Exposure online or call 020 7907 7130.

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