In 1967 Richard Long took the train from London out to the countryside. Somewhere out in the green he was walking a number of times back and forth until a straight line of bent grass appeared. Then he took a photo of his line and went back to London.
'A Line Made by Walking' is today a classic work of land art. Long was 22 and still a student at Saint Martins College of Art. One of his teachers was Anthony Caro, who did still his metal sculptures. Long was looking for a completely new way to do sculpture: A sculpture that did not need to remain for eternity. He made 'walking' an act of art.
I like about Long's art the contradiction between the cool calculated minimal concept (a circle, a square, a certain distance...) and the openness towards his material: nature.
Many of his pieces are long gone now and can today only be seen on photos (like 'A Line Made by Walking'). Others consist of stones or wood taken from nature to museums or galleries. There they are arranged in geometric figures - mostly circles and squares.
At Tate's large central gallery there are now six of these sculptures. I like most the 'Norfolk Flint Circle' of 1990. It is about eight meters in diameter. I admire the sensual quality these pieces have.
After all, if you draw a geometric figure like a straight line with a pencil and you look at it with a magnifying glass, then you will also see the line is not straight, because it fades out. It is the same with Long's work. I read his large geometric stone sculptures also as mankind's effort to put its (abstract) concepts upon nature - often without success.
I also like the sensual quality of his mud paintings: Long takes mud of rivers and makes very beautiful wall paintings directly on the walls. Again, the aspect of a work potentially without an original is important to him.
Then there are also the strictly conceptual text works: He writes in stenciled words on walls or paper either what he observed during his walks. Or what his starting concept for the walk was. These works are the most drastic contradiction to the sensual quality of the stone circles.
Long's critics say his work is beautiful, but he does the same for some 40 years now. They claim that there is no development in his work. Some say, it is nice decoration but nothing more. Other critics say that his word pieces look all to designed.
Well, I think to a certain extent they are right: Especially the argument that he is doing the same for 40 years is a good point. But he does it well and he seems to enjoy his work.
His work is very beautiful - so what?
Richard Long: 'Heaven and Earth' at Tate Britain from 3 June - 6 September 2009
Do you put the stone circles or the wood pieces on the floor of the living room?
How do you protect it from the kids or the dog?
It looked great in the Tate, but...