Albion

Stephen Walter’s drawings are a tangle of signs, words and images that draw the viewer into the artist’s intricate worlds. His work is crowded with today’s (sub)cultural symbols and obsessive tendencies; but it also celebrates traditional techniques, craftsmanship and Romantic notions of place.

Albion, 2016, is a landmark map of England and Wales, where the mundane and regular things in life have evaporated away to reveal sites of longstanding cultural significance and those steeped in folklore. I project the landmass with a South-up orientation.

Stephen Walter: Albion (Final Edition Print)

Stephen Walter: Albion (Final Edition Print)

Albion is a celebration of the physical geography of Britain. Whilst including many of the features and names shown on today’s conventional maps, such as Google, Open Street Maps and the Ordinance Survey, it also landmarks many of the myths, legends and folktales related to places that exist in our collective consciousness, and especially to those that mirror certain historical events and historical figures. For example, the witch-hunts of 16th and 17th Century England were most prominent in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

In delving into this territory, it would have been easy to find myself on unstable ground. I tried to hold back from many of the myths that were deemed too localized in nature, as well as the more fanciful dragons, fairies and ghost stories that circulate in folklore. However, a couple of famous examples have entered the work – such as the ‘Brown Lady’ of Rainham Hall (Norfolk), which is probably the most well-known photograph of a supposed ghost in the country. Certain well-known bogeymen get a look in, so do others including black dog legends. The phenomena of small flickering lights over marshy ground (caused by self igniting gases from decaying matter – giving rise to names such as Punket, Jack o’ Lantern and Will o’ the Wisp also get a look. These imagined tales; do hold a curious spell over the imagination. They have spread throughout the nation either in reaction to strange natural phenomena, or as tales told by parents in warning to their children against the dangers of wondering out alone at night in places still semi-wild.

Stephen Walter; Albion, East Anglia (detail)

Stephen Walter; Albion, East Anglia (detail)

Whitby becomes ‘Dracula’s Landing’ and Dartmoor ‘Grimpen Mire’, in celebration of an alternative, gothic nation immortalized in fiction. Nuclear power stations, motorways and some of the major coal burning stations are also landmarked, merging my affection for places of wonder with others past down to us through the ages.

Leaving fiction to one side – many of the ‘enchantments’ found on this map are not based on my own imaginings – they already exist here today, either as historical sites that are already open to visitors and those places increasingly explored by the curious. Others can be discovered through the folklores of our nation.

Stephen Walter: Albion, North East (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, North East (detail)

Many of the weird and wonderful names on this map are still to be found on mainstream charts – the villages of Snodland (Kent), Temple Cloud (Somerset) and Blubber Houses (Yorkshire) are examples of these. Others names hint at the past such as the Isle of Avalon – meaning the ‘land of apples’; ‘Pig Hill’ denoting (Swine don) – Swindon; and Bodmin – formally known as ‘House of the Monks’. In some cases, the place names describe the landscape features around which they are built – the village of Weeting by the Fens is one example. Others describe the flora and fauna found to frequent these places, while some point to their original or past usages. I treat these words and names like emblems from the past – the names themselves become landmarks.

Stephen Walter: Albion, South East (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, South East (detail)

Also landmarked, are some of the bazaar yearly customs found around the country – such as the Haxey Hood in Lincolnshire and the cheese rolling custom at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire; as well as some of the oldest known Shrovetide football games in the world at Ashbourne and Alnwick.

I celebrate the music festivals of this land from the legendary Isle of White festivals of 1969-70, Glastonbury Fair and many of the contemporary ones that have sprung up all over the country – the act of gathering is important here.

Stephen Walter: Albion, West Country (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, West Country (detail)

Many historical and sacred sights sites are shown – Stone Henge, Stanton Drew, Wood Henge, Avebury and Silbury Hill, many of which are still clouded in mystery. Numerous sites associated with the legends of ‘King’ Arthur are pinpointed, such as Tintagel (Cornwall) and Cadbury Castle (Somerset) – or ‘Camelot’ as some proposes. Ancient trees are landmarked in their positions; some pre-Roman Solstice navigational routes are marked and some major Ley-lines.

Stephen Walter: Albion, North West (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, North West (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, North West 2 (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, North West 2 (detail)

Dinas Emrys (Snowdonia) is attached to the rise of the legendary Merlin (Mwelrin) and where the battle between the Red and White dragons occurred in his prophecy. This myth contributed to the eventual rising of the Welsh national symbol – its Red Dragon. Dinas Emrys was the site of the last great battle of the British Druids against the Roman invasion in 51 AD, after the last remnants of the Druid culture had been pushed back to the Isle of Anglesea, or Mona as it was once called. The Driuds were defeated and the Pagan culture retreated further North into Scotland and Westwards into Ireland. This is an example of where this map landmarks historical events that have then gone on to shape and mirror our folklore. The legend of Merlin, apart from being a characterization of many fragmented stories of an archetypal hero, it is in essence harking back to a lost pre Roman culture that would live on in history through story telling. The legend of King Arthur marks the passing of a once native culture (at least perceived that way) – into an era of the Anglo-Saxons. Folktales and physical landmarks are essentially memorials to history.

Stephen Walter: Albion, South West (detail)

Stephen Walter: Albion, South West (detail)

I include a few inventions and characteristics of my own in response to contemporary life but essentially it is a map that stands for a re-enchantment of place and a fascination with the landscape that is the receptacle for all our lives. It is a testament to those that have survived the test of time.

The undulating shading on the map mirrors the relief of the land and the rivers are once again seen as veins through the country, hinting at their previous function as trade routes and highways where stories and interactions circulated. As we look to preserve the many eco-systems that exist in our country, these rivers will once again be of importance in the future.

Influences

Albion takes on the style of many historical maps from antiquity such as those of Abraham Ortilius (1527 – 1598), John Roque (1709–1762), and pictorial maps such as Jacopo de’Barbari’s’ map of Venice, 1500. It runs close to reinterpretations of old maps by Grayson Perry and is heavily influenced by the monumental illuminations of Nobson Newtown by artist Paul Noble; where for Noble – names become a place – words become pictures. It is also informed by fantasy maps and other quasi-real places described by the likes of Italo Calvino, in his Invisible Cities; also Charles Avery’s Islanders. However, Albion is a celebration of the actual geography of Britain and where ideas of ‘place’ form starting points for wider investigations into ethics, the politics of space and our inherited and shared understandings. 

Conclusion

In contemplating the relation between the landscape and our culture – I hope the landmarks and the names on this map, will hold some meaning and point towards the vast mystery of our language and how it forms and changes over time. These etymologies are seen here as old things that form and enter-weave with the lower layers of our national document – embedded within the land and the water that contains us. It fights against the contemporary urge to proclaim landscape as arbitrary. I doff my cap to such writers as Robert Macfarlane and his book Landmarks, where he has compiled of a glossary of local words and sayings that describe the landscape and its natural phenomena. These chthonic elements exist somewhere in between the landscape our language and our culture. They begin to seep upwards again to the surface and find their way onto this map.

It is also no coincidence that this re configuration of Britain – England and Wales, mirrors the recent moving tectonic plate of Politics in Britain after the EU Referendum. It now points to a period of navel gazing into a more insular restructuring of our institutions and a further threat to the breaking up of the United Kingdom…

Albion – the name

Albion is a poetic name for England or Britain. Itis Old English and related to the Latin word albus, meaning ‘white’, probably of Celtic origin.Perhaps albus refers to the White cliffs of South East England where the Greeks, Celts or Romans would have first encountered Britain from across the Channel. Alba or Albany was adopted for Scotland. The name Britain, said to have first been recorded by the great geographer and explorer Pytheas of Massalia (modern-day Marseille), on his voyage and reputed circumnavigation of Bretannikē in roughly 320BC.

The name Albion is often attached to mythical investigations of England. William Blake referred to it in his Albion Rose, 1795, in his heroic portrayal of a perfect primeval being. John Matthews and others write of an Arthur of Albion. In this sense – Albion, stands for an emblem of a lost and distant part of Britain. The name appears in a number of sporting teams including West Bromwich Albion and Brighton and Hove Albion FC. It can appear often as a pub name, and as a place name especially in Canada and the US.

A name is a curious thing. We will never know what Britain was called in the Neolithic Age when the great henges of stone and burial mounds were being built. Even so, in an age of recorded history today, etymological sources are rarely certain to their exact origins, especially when concerned with old names that do not simply refer to a person, trade or geographical feature. The vast mystery of our language and the way in which a name can morph and dovetail with preceding tongues provide us with an insights into the history of a place, but it also adds further layers on top of an already adopted name, taking it further away from its source.

Signs and symbols, as well the spoken or written language, form part of our inherited history, past down through the ages. Maps are representations of landscapes filled with these names, signs and symbols. Certain names and customs cling to locations on the map. Over time they merge with folklore and culture and either fade away or in some cases they remain. These cultural residues then become landmarks and it is some of these landmarks that I seeks to highlight in this map.

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The Commission: Walter-Albion

Walter-Albion was commissioned by the arts organization Flash of Splendor Art CIC, in partnership with Exeter University and the Heritage Lottery Fund. I was asked to create a work that would contribute to the Poly-Olbion Project – looking to re-engage with Michael Drayton’s epic 17th century topographical poem.

I presented my original drawing entitled Albion, at an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in September 2015. It hung alongside other works by artists such as Charles Newington; and paintings made by the children taking part in the Poly-Olbion project – led by Flash of Splendor Arts CIC and their heritage education programs with children’s art groups. Other works included an original publication of Poly-Olbion and William Hole’s map illustrations. Further images and works were exhibited in a touring show at Cecil Sharp House, London, and The Forum – University of Exeter, 2015.

The Concept & its links with Poly-Olbion

Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, first published in 1622, is a celebration of landscape and its features and the legends that have attached themselves to certain places. As if floating through the air on a lingual journey, weaving from one place to the next – the poem pleasures in the many stories and myths that have accumulated over time. It is also a celebration of the names of places.

Drayton was in the end unable to include Scotland in his Poly-Olbion, as he had originally intended – it only covered England & Wales. I would mirror Drayton by omitting Scotland in my re-shaping of Britain whilst contemplating a potential split from the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014. Here at the boarder, Scotland falls away at the bottom of the image with an indication to the Caledonian Orogeny. [The fault line of the Caledonian Orogeny in Scotland formed some 520 million years ago when North Scotland merged with England and Wales, as the tectonic plates of the world moved again into the form that we now know today]. This political fault-line is once again being questioned with further calls for another Scottish Independence vote and further devolution.

William Hole’s map illustrations of Poly-Olbion provided a visual guide and whilst occasionally dipping into the poem itself, it was at this initial stage when my project began to move away from these works and venture into my own research and interests.

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[Artwork depicted]:

Fine Art Print

Albion, 2016, 151.8 x 183.2cm, Archival inkjet print on Somerset enhanced radiant white smooth 330gsm
Signed and editioned by the artist
Edition of 25

(Available at www.tagfinearts.com)

The Works: Albion & Walter-Albion.

From the original drawing entitled Albion, exhibited at the RGS, I was commissioned to producea limited edition print entitled Walter-Albion, 2016. This consists of an edition of five (HC) Hors Commerce prints.

Leading on from the commission, I developed the image further and produced a Limited Edition Print for the market – again, entitled Albion. This separate image is published by TAG Fine Arts, London, and released on to the market in 2016 (Edition of 25).

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Further information on works:

http://poly-olbion.exeter.ac.uk/

www.tagfinearts.com

www.stephenwalter.co.uk

 

List of Albion works by Stephen Walter:

Albion, 2014-15, (Original Drawing), 263.7 x 231.1 cm, Graphite on Paper.

Albion, 2016, 151.8 x 183.2cm, Archival inkjet Print. Edition of 25.

Walter-Albion, (HC) Hors Commerce Edition, 151.5 x 172.6cm, Archival inkjet Print Edition of 5.These have entered the Art Collections of: University of Exeter; The Royal Geographical Society (Institute of British Geographers); Flash of Splendor Art CIC & The English Folk Dance and Song Society (Cecil Sharp House, London).

 

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