In 1967 Richard Long took a radical step forward in the British landscape tradition: he proposed that the relationship between the act of walking and the land was sculpture in itself. For over 40 years he has been marking his walks – the place, time and distance – using raw materials collected en route. He has made lines, crosses, spirals and circles on the spot, from pebbles, flint or driftwood, on forays around his West Country studio or epic expeditions all over the world. He might record his activities with a photograph, a map or a text. Or he might exhibit his action by bringing found materials into the gallery and making geometric configurations on the floor.
With Spring Circle, Long marks a walk through north Cornwall by arranging chunks of greenish-blue slate in a circle on the floor, following the modernist tenet ‘truth to materials’ all the way. Slate splits easily into smooth layers, and for this piece, it has been cut to preserve the natural form and presented with the smooth side facing up. While the outer ends form a regular circumference, the inward-facing tips are jagged – they create their own internal horizon line, craggy and rugged, pointing perhaps to their source, Delabole Quarry in Cornwall. Delabole was once the deepest man-made pit in the world, and with its violent tiers, is still the largest of its kind in England, and the oldest, dating back to the 15th century. By the 1990s the quarry was in steep decline, due to the emergence of cheaper building alternatives.
Even in response to a landscape so profoundly altered by man, Long’s guiding principle is harmony. In 1991 he described his work as ‘a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work.’ Removed from the landscape to the ‘white cube’ of the gallery space, Spring Circle has a certain autonomy of time and place – it has a predetermined diameter and can be installed anywhere according to the artist’s instructions.
Long grew up in Bristol, a couple of days on foot from Delabole, going rock-climbing, walking on the downs, exploring the River Avon and holidaying in Dartmoor, home to many ancient stone circles. As an art student at Saint Martin’s in London, he turned his back on the norm (devotion to welding under tutor Antony Caro, or Pop art, with its adulation of commerce) and beat his own path, with the simple methods of Arte Povera and the thrust of conceptual art as compass points. The idea of ‘balance’ is also something that separates him from his Land Art peers in America, such as Walter De Maria or Robert Smithson, who work in the landscape by making transformations on a massive scale. In a modest way, Long’s mark-making aligns modern, ecological concerns with England’s mysterious ancient monuments, such as the stone circles of Avebury or Stonehenge.
Text by Dorothy Feaver
- Accession Number P6284
- Dimensions 300 CM DIAMETER
- Media DELABOLE SLATE
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
A permanent image taken by means of the chemical action of light on light-sensitive surfaces.
A three-dimensional work of art. Such works may be carved, modelled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, relief, and made in a huge variety of media. Contemporary practice also includes live elements, as in Gilbert & George 'Living Sculpture' as well as broadcast work, radio or sound sculpture.
To join pieces of metal by applying heat, sometimes with pressure and sometimes with an intermediate or filler metal having a high melting point.
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- UK, Paddock Wood, Mascalls Gallery
DE LA MOORE LA HIRST 60 DE ANI DE SCULPTURA BRITANICA (FROM MOORE TO HIRST: SIXTY YEARS OF BRITISH SCULPTURE)
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