28 May, 2009

Richard Long takes art for a walk at Tate Britain

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The time is ripe for Richard Long’s latest ambulatory exhibition, which promises a visual richness I can’t wait to see

Catalogues come and go, as ephemeral in their way as exhibitions, but one that reached me yesterday is different. For one thing Heaven and Earth, the catalogue for Richard Long’s forthcoming exhibition of the same name, is exceptionally attractive. It’s not especially luxurious, but its pictures have a visual richness and fascination.

Long has always been an artist of the book, among other things, and in this catalogue the images and words that evoke his walks all over the world have an irresistible elegance. I can’t get enough of the superb colour photographs that document the sculptures he has created in remote places from materials he finds on his walks: a cairn of stones on Dartmoor, a circle of driftwood in the Arctic, a line made by walking in South Africa’s Great Karoo.

Long has been walking as art since the 1960s, but he also works in galleries, creating mud drawings and stone circles that mirror the neolithic artworks he makes out in the open, far from civilisation.

The other reason Heaven and Earth caught my eye is its photograph of Circle of Life, an installation Long created at Spazio Zero in Palermo in 1997, after walking across Sicily. I’m particularly fond of this double circle of stone and mud because I helped to make it. I was in Palermo to write an article about him and got roped into shifting stones and mud with a couple of young Italian gallerists. It was a memorable day. Now, looking at Long’s catalogue and in anticipation of his show at Tate Britain, I feel proud to have hefted earthen materials for him.

Long is an artist whose time has come – again. In the 1960s his walking art was an expression of his idealistic desire to rediscover the natural world. Today the necessity of that vision is starker and the nobility of his project undeniable.

Long’s legs are indefatigable. Just looking at the photographs of where he’s hiked – Iceland, the Himalayas, the Sahara – is to have a moving encounter with some of the wilderness he has covered. It is also a meditation on what art is, for wherever he goes, Long makes a mark. In that sense he’s an inveterate humanist – we must mark our passing, it’s in our nature. But he shows us that the simplest, most impermanent and sympathetic marks can be the most eloquent. He is a radical British great.

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