Monday, 8 June 2009

Richard Long

Tate Britain June 3-September 6

The first few rooms are records of walks Long has made, and photographs of the sculptures he left in the landscape. Long marked his early walks on maps: arbitrary straight lines and circles. “A six-day walk over all roads, lanes and double tracks inside a six mile wide circle centred on the giant at Cerne Abbas” creates what looks like a diagram of the veins of the head. The 70s were prime time for hunters of ley lines: mysterious straight lines thought to be made by early man, or visitors from outer space.

Long namechecks Stonehenge and Glastonbury too. Early man really did make giant marks on the landscape all around Stonehenge.

He quotes Johnny Cash “I walk the line”. A Line Made by Walking is quintessential Long, the line that leads from the viewer straight into infinity. The old, straight track, the narrow road to the deep north that we feel we should be walking on, away from rampant consumerism and materialism and into the purity of nature.

But you have to be pretty rugged to walk in a straight line over the British landscape with its bogs, nettles, brambles, thickets. Long doesn’t mind sleeping in a tent in the snow (he photographs the impression it leaves, and makes a sculpture out of his camp-fire ash (Inca Rock).

Placenames become part of the art. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee! Or perhaps at Stanwardine in the Fields, on a line from No Man’s Heath to Bootle.

Then we come to a room of stone sculptures. There’s an oblong of grey basalt blocks like elephants’ legs. Chunks of slate are chopped up to look like balks of wood and arranged in an oblong. Jagged bits of red slate that breaks like halva or yeast are set on end in a circle. There’s a circle of large knobbly flints like bird poo, and one of coaly basalt with quartz veins.

He also creates paintings fingerpainted out of mud drips and splatters, straight on to the gallery wall. Drips of white mud on a black wall are like a silver birch forest. A girl approaches as if she could walk into it and disappear.

Long writes “I woz ere” on the landscape, then walks the line to vanishing point.

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