Stephen Walter is most famous for his obsessively detailed maps of London and other cities. The Island (2008) and sequel London Subterranea are images of such depth and ingenuity that you can stare at them for half an hour without losing interest. So much so, that they’re even available as an app.
A new exhibition of Stephen’s work shows that his talents stretch beyond the cartographic. Several large landscape images are on show, depicting woodland scenes and inviting valleys, though each includes elements that would puzzle the Springwatch team. ‘Leyman’ offers a beautifully sketched country scene, with a sky full of repetitive typography. In the drawing called Holweg, we’re inside dense woodland, mischievously and mysteriously rendered as a pair of Y-fronts. Elsewhere, Ordnance Survey icons conspire and cluster to make a map of pure symbols. Cyclesea, meanwhile, takes the urbe-in-rus idea to an extreme: what looks like a close-up study of tangled bracken and undergrowth is instead a landscape made entirely of cycles.
And then there’s the map room. The two centrepiece images of London mentioned at the top are both present in all their full-size glory, with numerous trimmed close-ups of particular areas displayed alongside. A similar high-density chart of the Liverpool area is also on display. You should also seek out Nova Utopia, a new cartographic work that takes Thomas More’s Utopia and imagines it “a century after a capitalist revolution has transformed its very essence”.
This is art of the highest order, for it not only looks terrific on the wall, but it also engages the intellect and sparks curiosity. Indeed, it made us want to take part — to excavate that old sketchpad, and start mapping out our own landscapes. A must-see exhibition.
Anthropocene is at Londonewcastle Project Space (warning, annoying web site blurs out music: mute your device), 28 Redchurch Street, E2 7DP until 28 July. Entrance is free. Images courtesy of TAG Fine Arts and copyright Stephen Walter.