Mapping a return to whimsical cartography

Artist Stephen Walter's hand drawn maps of London go on display at Fenton House

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The Independent Culture

The line between cartography and conceptualism was trodden regularly by mapmakers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who drew countries and cities in the shapes of animals, trees and people. In those days science and art were happy collaborators. But since a soberer (and more accurate) approach to delineating landscapes won out, maps became less aesthetically whimsical.

So it is nice to see a reprisal of whimsy by artist Stephen Walter whose exhibition “The Island” lands at Fenton House in London on Wednesday. Walter has taken a random, but not imprecise, route to mapping London in black ink on paper with incredible detail. His maps are full of famous buildings, street signs, logos, cars and rowing boats fashioned according to his own perceptions place and everyday signage.

Walter has extensively researched the semiotics of London, taking old source material and re-imagining them according to his own spin. The snaking path of the River Thames (above) is as recognisable in his work as it is in the EastEnders opening credits, but its dense surroundings are idiosyncratically portrayed. He outlines individual London boroughs in spidery shapes.

On the section marked "Homestead" (a play on Hampstead, where Fenton House is), the artist has written "POSH" and a speech bubble warns: "You must do things properly here or you will get complaints". Walter adds humorous touches throughout.

“A city’s ability to constantly reinvent itself, building on top of what was before, continually shifting its cultural identity has been a source of enduring fascination,” Walter said.

The exhibition will be the first contemporary art show ever held at the imposing National Trust owned 17th century merchant’s dwelling Fenton House in Hampstead.

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Stephen Walter – The Island: London series is at Fenton House from 5-30 October 2011