Do you get lost? I do, a lot. There is nothing on God’s green Earth that infuriates me quite so much as the sneering sensation that I have taken a wrong turn once again. I link it to being late; to blisters from disorientated hours spent searching; frustration and possibly fear. But you can only really be lost if you have a precise destination.
If you have no destination and merely wander through the streets, a flitter-flutter patter flaneur; that is good and well. But if your destination is getting lost in itself, you may well be Gareth Woods, who also goes by the name of Fuller, and you would probably be researching your next project.
Fuller makes maps. Not, I warn you, the sort of map I need to save me as I stare hopelessly at street names. How can it be a map if it’s not made for practical use?! I hear you; you’re used to maps living on smart phones, in the tattered A-Z of your dad’s garage and in the archaic charting of adventurers from days gone by. So let me clarify; Fuller is an artist. His pieces plot the city in symbols, allowing us to play within them as we decipher the landmarks we know through associations and pictorial codes. “Cartography in a very scientific sense can be a bit boring and you don’t really get a lot of time on the ground what with digital… I’m making emotive maps.” He explains.
His biggest oeuvre to date, a hand drawn map of London, took 10 years to complete. A decade of living, learning, unwrapping and unwinding our capital. Executed in black ink on a white background the tightly-packed design is teeming with cultural references, humour and his own personal experiences. There is a pig over Battersea power station alluding to the Pink Floyd publicity stunt, a bird cage for Canary Wharf. Two different crosses on the map pay tribute to dead acquaintances, a national lottery sign stands in for the Millennium Dome. The entire work feels imbued with the energy of London; it’s bounding, bustling and bubbling. Security cameras, birds and buildings jostle each other in a frenzy. It is compact and complex. As a matter of fact, you can loose yourself in it. Although he’s also finished maps of Bristol, Purbeck and Shou (a fictional town in China) to me his soft-edged style, woven into a close-knit transcript of the land, befits London best.
To distil Fuller’s artwork down to ‘mapping’ alone would be a mistake. It is much more than a map. It is in turn many other things; social commentary, playful cataloguing and most importantly; art of merit. Although Fuller has no formal art training (when did this make anyone an artist anyway?!), his background is nonetheless creative and notably always linked to travel. His impressive portfolio includes a long stint at the Guardian, many years in film including sponsored content, production and charity work, he’s even worked on a project with the National Geographic channel. Just like his maps, which cannot be seriously considered one-dimensional pieces; nor is Fuller a one-dimensional man. His motives and interests crossover like country lanes. Cartography gave him reason to explore more, and an excuse for already exploring. He hopes next to venture further outside of England, beyond Europe and gain access to new worlds where he can not only survey the land, but repackage it. “There’s one place in Africa I’m keen to go to, and I’m fine about it because I’m choosing to do that but I don’t know how my mother would feel when she puts her head on her pillow at night… but it’s part of it… Though I’m not a soldier! A map soldier!”
Aside from maps he does mixed media pieces. One tackles the sticky subject of space tourism. Another attacks opinions on tobacco and the recently passed legislation regarding the ban on branded cigarette packets. It could mean death by smoking, it could mean death of the tobacco industry – it remains open to interpretation, with Fuller’s main desire being to hear what people will make of his art; “It’s really bizarre when people do engage with the work because some of them will walk in and find the smallest thing and they’ll know exactly what it is. Then they’ll look at something which is blatantly obvious, and they won’t know what the drawing means, that’s exciting!”
Every time Fuller unveils a new work, he tries to do so at a venue with an aerial view; a poignant touch. London Town was shown at the St. Pancras Clock Tower, where you can engage with the piece and the city it shows at the same time. Once again he’s reshuffling our digest of the world around us.
You could say Fuller functions as an agitator; placing something before you and waiting with boyish excitement for the prognosis. The pieces create conversation, spark feeling and despite being so modern, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery bought a copy of his Bristol map, whilst both The British Library and the Museum of London have acquired London Town. “I get a massive enjoyment from creating what would be considered an artefact. So there’s a very traditional, cartographical side to what I do, and then I’m just trying to bring contemporary art into it, because I feel that’s more engaging, I don’t think the human mind really works in a linear way, you know how maps can be… Our minds work in a more chaotic sense and when you’re placed geographically, you associate by thoughts and memories, not always by street names.”
The future is about stepping forward, but the past is worthy of respect. Fuller is careful to honour each phase of time in it’s own right; past, present and future all stand still for a moment, layered on top of each other. Not only does his map pay tributes to monuments, but it charts moments that haven’t yet occurred in our history such as including the crossrail and crossrail 2 lines, as yet unbuilt. He cannot help talking about new ways to develop his work, including documenting his travels digitally and at the same time printing his maps on local materials using antique methods. To keep up you need to sit up. Fuller’s maps are like life itself, requiring constant involvement.
See more from Fuller on his website. Photography curtesy of the artist.