Magazine article The Spectator

Making Tracks

Magazine article The Spectator

Making Tracks

Article excerpt

Richard Long: Heaven and Earth

Tate Britain, until 6 September

The title of this exhibition may not be exactly modest, but then there is a god-like aspect to all artistic creativity, particularly when it operates in the domain of Land Art. Some practitioners of this genre have literally made the earth move in their excavations and reshapings of nature, others keep their human interventions to a minimum. Richard Long (born 1945) is one of the latter, confining his activities principally to walking and to making tracks in the wild, or leaving behind him cairns of stones. Occasionally he brings back mementoes of his trips to make sculptures or painted installations in galleries, but most often he simply photographs what he's done or where he's been, and exhibits the photos along with wall texts.

Photos of landscape, even with stone circles materialising in them, do not make for a particularly dramatic exhibition, and the texts that Long puts with them are either of the descriptive variety ('A Walk of 603 Miles in Nineteen Days Across France to Switzerland, Autumn 2008'), or embarrassingly quasi-poetic. Much better are his paintings and sculptures. Outside the exhibition, in the entry corridor, is a wall painting in orangey mud called 'From Beginning to End'. This is painted or drawn in Vallauris clay directly on to the wall, and bears the rhythmic gesture of Richard Long's hand.

It's very painterly in effect, and I have always enjoyed Long's wall pieces, whether splashed or smeared, though some of his contemporaries dismiss him as 'Jackson Pollock without the colour'.

In the first room of this retrospective, Long has made two large drawings in Avon mud on the gallery walls, a combination of stripes, fingermarks and splashes like a messier version of Sean Scully's trademark blocks.

These are in fact hexagrams, ancient Chinese symbols for Heaven and Earth, and they're done in Avon mud because Long lives in Bristol and the River Avon is his local and preferred mud-source. This eloquent and impressive opening soon starts to dissipate, dwindling in the following rooms to blackand-white photos and maps. Of course, the only way really to experience Long's work would be to be him. Even to accompany him would be a dilute experience. These photos are even more removed: uninspiring records of long past events, arid conceptual art.

Long's gigantic ambition (think of all those miles covered, the space occupied) is reduced to contrasty black-and-white photos until we come to the central room of the show in which six stone floor sculptures make an archipelago of experiences. …

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