Making the World a Better Place

Artist Stephen Walter has already achieved considerable international success – particularly through his characteristic work exploring 'the glory of maps'.

But he remains ambitious – an ambition founded on his high view of Art: “I still believe that Art can make the world a better place, and that the best examples of works of Art can elevate the human species towards the beauties and wonders of the world that we have inherited.”

Stephen (OE 1987-1994) works in two forms – finely detailed semi-abstract landscapes and, secondly, maps and plans. Prints of his maps have become particularly sought-after.

His most famous work is his 2008 map of London, entitled The Island. This features tiny pencil notes indicating locations’ public and private associations, and is part-oral history, part-folklore and part-personal homage. The capital is shown as being adrift in a Home Counties sea: Stephen grew up in New Barnet, and Barnet is depicted as a coastal town.

The Island gained him some renown in 2010 when it was displayed alongside early hand-drawn maps of London at the acclaimed British Library exhibition, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. Then last year, the same map was published in book form, which brought him further public attention, including an interview in The Guardian.

Both maps and London have long been subjects of fascination to Stephen, who lives and works in the capital. His studio is at Fish Island on the River Lea close to the site of the 2012 Olympic Park. As a child, he enjoyed pondering over Tolkien’s map of Mordor, imagining what the landscape this represented was like.

At QE, Stephen, who is of English and German heritage, was taught by both the current Head of Art, Ashley West, and by Art teacher Stephen Buckeridge. “I have good memories from QE, especially from the Art Department,” he says. He remembers particularly the emphasis on Art History and the opportunities provided, such as the School arranging for his A-level class to set up studio for a week in the Slade School of Art. “QE formed the first segment and the foundations of the world-class education that I was so lucky to receive.”

Mr West – “a fine teacher and an important influence” – later arranged for him to return to the School for a period as an artist-in-residence, during which time he was commissioned to produce the collages which remain displayed in the front entrance to this day.

After School, he went on to study a Foundation course at Middlesex University, before taking a first in Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. He progressed to The Royal College of Art (RCA) for his Master’s degree in 1999–2001 and then later to a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Arts. He has won a number of awards, including the RCA 2001 Drawing Prize. His most recent shows have included one at the Shapero Modern gallery in Mayfair.

Stephen's own website describes his work as “an investigation into obsessive drawing techniques, semiotics, the glory of maps, and where landscape is seen a receptacle for meaning. Each work is an intricate world in itself. The maps are a tangle of words, symbols and drawn elements where cultural residues inhabit certain locations.” He mainly works in two dimensions on paper through drawing, painting, photography, and reprographics and print.

In recent works, Stephen has gone on to include sculptural forms such as his Hagioscope Frame, an interactive display case designed for viewing his own artwork, Nova Utopia.

In addition to his own work, Stephen continues to enjoy Art in all its guises, especially painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. “I’m still playing football, trekking and making expeditions into the wild places and enjoying long-distance cycling,” he says. He also enjoys Music – he was for many years a DJ – and reading (mainly non-fiction), which he describes as an essential pastime for an artist operating in the world of the arts and ideas.

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