Richard Long is a preeminent pioneer of walking as art, beginning with his seminal piece A Line Made by Walking, 1967. This work was considered – and is still considered, nearly 50 years later – a key moment in the development of a number of new art movements still flourishing today, including conceptual art, land and environmental art, performance art, the blurring of boundaries between different practices, and the idea that art does not need to be limited solely to the production of an art object.
In, this simple line of flattened turf, made by his walking backwards and forwards in a field, Richard Long is saying that sculpture can be an act of walking, and that art can be ephemeral, performative – not necessarily able to be bought or sold or viewed in a gallery. All that remains is the now famous photograph that he took at the time, through which we can share the original experience of his walk in our own imaginations: the experience of being fully connected to the natural world around us through the natural and repetitive movement of the body.
Still highly influential today, Richard Long has made epic walks in many of the world’s remotest regions, as well as close to home – often marking the landscapes of his journeys through archetypal geometric patterns (circles, spirals, lines…) either through his own movement or through making sculpture with the stone and natural materials to hand. These large outdoor sculptural works are short-lived – working always with deep respect for nature, Long will dismantle the pieces after he has documented them with photography.
He also makes work for gallery viewing – his photographs, text works, maps and other forms of presentation bring us vivid impressions of his human experience during the walks, and his floor-based stone pieces and mud works made directly on the gallery walls give an immediate physical sense of the land through which he has travelled.
I wrote before on this blog about Richard Long – at the time of his wonderful Heaven and Earth exhibition at Tate Modern, London, 2009. Here is a glowing account of the exhibition, with which I completely agree, but could never say so well! Jonathan Jones – Heaven and Earth
And I was surprised to find my views haven’t changed very much since 2009, so rather than repeat what I have already said – please read my earlier post if you would like to.
Richard Long seems to be ‘flavour of the month’ here in Devon, much to my pleasure – for I have seen three separate exhibitions here recently, where his work has been featured.
Detached and Timeless, at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), Exeter, was a superb exhibition of significant British artists from across the last 60 years, whose work has been inspired by nature and spirit of place. Unfortunately here, I felt Long’s small stone floor piece suffered somewhat from being squeezed up against a dividing wall, making it difficult for me to get a sense of its geometry in relation to the space. But it was right it should be there, representing his contribution to contemporary land-related art, and there were many other fascinating and inspiring works on show to catch my attention! The exhibition closed on Nov 2nd, but there is a little info on the RAMM website, under ‘What’s On/ past exhibitions’.
In Plymouth, I visited Walk On (40 years of Art Walking – From Richard Long to Janet Cardiff), a wide-ranging and very interesting exhibition, which was promoted as ‘… the first exhibition to examine the astonishingly varied ways that artists, from the 1960’s onwards, have undertaken a seemingly universal act – that of taking a walk – as a means to create new types of art’.
The part of the exhibition held in Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery was my favourite. This was partly perhaps because of its emphasis on landscape and nature, with important works from Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, and a number of other distinguished figures such as Alec Finlay, Chris Drury, Julian Opie… But it was also because of the strength of the exhibition presentation itself, with two of Long’s stone circles rightly, I believe, taking a pivotal place in the centre of the floor, holding the exhibition together and setting it into context. The circles reflected his lifelong connection with Southwest England. Other smaller wall-based works of his represented significant moment during the course of his career. For me, there is often something timeless, almost Zen-like in the disciplined simplicity and repetitive nature of Long’s processes. The works are full of movement, and a sense of his own mental and bodily movements – and at the same time they carry a pervading sense of absolute stillness beneath the movement.
The ‘Walk-On’ exhibition is open until Dec.13th and well worth seeing if possible, for all the other artists too, that I haven’t been able to mention here.
Here’s a recent short film from Lisson Gallery, London: Richard Long at Frieze Masters.
The third exhibition I have seen recently in Devon, is: Artist Rooms: Richard Long, at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford. I approached it with some trepidation, for somehow I had got it into my head that the space was going to be too small, too dark and too cluttered… I could not have been more wrong, for as I pushed open the door to the first room, my eye, and indeed my footsteps, were drawn as if by a magnet to the central stone sculpture Cornish Slate Ellipse, 2009 (which Richard Long had personally reassembled in the gallery).
As I walked very slowly around the ellipse, one of my favourite quotations (from Isamu Noguchi) flitted through my head: ‘Stone is the visible history of time, feeding us through a calm and radiant presence’. I breathed in the strong physicality of the stone, and the clear, clean spaciousness of the surrounding gallery. The two were in perfect balance. (Though, on a second visit, I found the balance was somewhat disturbed by the intrusion of a large donations receptacle into a prominent position in the space. This put an interesting new reading on the entire exhibition!)
However… continuing my earlier walk around the ellipse, a relaxed sense of being out in the open landscape slowly grew in me. I sat to look at the work more closely. Its simple geometric form allowed my mind to wander free.
I admired the machine-cut precision of the stone pieces, set against the occasional glimpses of natural mineral veins and stains within the stone itself. And in the massed tightly-packed arrangement of the pieces within the ellipse, I began to see patterns, curves and alignments – drawing me to contemplate the never-ending movement of life – and a felt sense of geological time.
There was a second stone piece, of Delabole slate: Spring Circle 1992, in the second room of the gallery – both sculptures acting as reference points for exploring the surrounding display of photographs, text works, lithographic prints and a small book of mud-dipped pages.
It was very nice to view these small-scale wall-based works at close-hand and so clearly and logically presented in the comfortable rooms of the Burton Gallery. Quite a few of them were made in our region, the Southwest: River Avon Mud Drawings: ten mud-dipped papers, 1988, for instance, or the purely textual piece: Three Moors, Three Circles, 1982, representing walks made on Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor.
All of them, I believe, were made in the British Isles, covering a range of different types of work and key moments during Long’s career. All of them convey a strong sense of his moment by moment relationship with the land through which he passes. And in the images where he has worked directly with earth material on paper, we can see his relaxed mastery of his medium.
In this second room, the first work I viewed was the renowned A Line Made by Walking, 1967 … and the final one was In the Cloud 1991: a fairly large framed text piece of an eight day walk across Scotland… ‘Coast to Coast West to East 1991.’ Chronologically, this led me straight back to the Delabole circle, then back out through the first gallery and the Cornish slate ellipse.
Here’s a video of another exhibition, that includes what I think is an earlier iteration of Cornish Slate Ellipse.
I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Richard Long’s practice (long solitary walks, often in remote parts of the world, focusing on nature and getting away from human contact) is a sort of romantic escapist fiction, as opposed to the reality of social interaction. I would say it is the exact opposite – that our deepest reality lies in our being part of this planet. The fiction can be seen in the games and manoeuverings of our dominant culture. Richard Long is an explorer, and very much involves himself in bringing his work back to galleries around the world, for us to consider and enjoy.
The exhibition, at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford, continues until 10th Jan 2015, so there is still lots of time to see it!
For finding out more about Richard Long – here are a few good links among the many:
- RICHARD LONG OFFICIAL WEBSITE – www.richardlong.org
He states: “Art about mobility, lightness and freedom.
Simple creative acts of walking and marking
about place, locality, time, distance and measurement”.
- Lisson Gallery – http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/richard-long
- TATE: A Line in the Himalayas
- Richard Long Exhibition (Heaven and Earth) – http://wp.me/p4mYE-ug
- Wikipedia has a very good overview of Richard Long’s career, with quotations from the artist himself.