Posted: 25th June 2021
Sir Richard Julian LONG
Paper and Ink
Sir Richard Julian Long is best known for his land art.
Long produced Waterlines as he marked the journey on foot from the Atlantic shore to the Mediterranean.
Long found the repetitive walking provided solitary days and simple pleasures.
In Waterlines, Long reflects the colours of the sea and sky through his use of blue ink.
Both Monet and Long are lone explorers in the landscape around them.
“Richard Long and Participatory Art” a blog by August McGregor from the Future Ferens
Is art to be viewed or experienced? Much of Richard Long’s (b.1945) art is concerned with the act of walking in a natural landscape. Since the 1960s he has pioneered ideas of ephemeral art pieces, such as A Line Made By Walking (1967), which was simply the traces of a long-repeated line in a Wiltshire field. Although his pursuit of these works led to his removal from art school, he has since established a long and successful career as a land artist, being nominated four times for the Turner Prize, winning in 1989.
Several of his other works are represented in the gallery space by prints which detail the process of the particular act or journey Long took to perform the work. Waterlines (1989), at the Ferens, is no exception. Originally commissioned for the King Edward’s Hospital Fund as a series to be hung in NHS Hospitals, it reads “each day a waterline/ poured from my water bottle/ along the walking line// from the Atlantic shore to the Mediterranean shore/ a 560 mile walk in 20 ½ days across Portugal and Spain”; a documentation of Long’s own journey.
However, the print is not limited to Long’s personal experience- it invites others to take similar journeys. Whilst walking from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean is not feasible right now, leaving a trail or record of local walks is by the same metric, also creating art by the traces you leave behind. Some of Long’s more abstract concepts, such as A Cloudless Walk (1995), where he walked until he was under a cloud, or Fibonacci Walk (2009), where he walked increasing numbers of miles each day alongside the Fibonacci sequence, are also very accessible in the modern world.
What’s the point, then, of Long’s walking art? From interviews, he seems to see it as meditative and reflective, across a variety of themes. For him, it can act as a “simplification” of life, with an overall aim of demonstrating a “balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract shapes”. However this does not capture an individual’s own experience of a walk, which is affected by countless factors that make each journey a unique experience. Long has been criticised by some scholars and other Land Art practitioners for the passive and apolitical nature of some of his works, however in 2021 an opportunity for escapism and mindfulness is perhaps something more to be cherished.
Overall, Waterlines and Richard Long’s other projects encourage viewers to rethink the journeys they take, whether as special events or even in their daily routine, and the relationship such journeys form (or don’t form) with nature. A walk of any kind can be a fantastic opportunity for mindfulness, and can be a uplifting diversion from an always-on society.