Since the late 1960s, Richard Long ’s artistic activity has been identified with the unfolding of elementary actions, such as walking in the landscape, recording through graphic means, and photography —both the activity itself and the modifications that Long makes to his surroundings. These modifications take the form of simple geometric shapes, made from stones or other elements found in nature. In 1967, for example, Long walked across a meadow in such a way that his passage left a straight track in the grass.
His choice to work in unspoiled landscapes (the English countryside, the Himalayas deserts, African trails, and the Bolivian highlands) acts as a criticism of the separation between nature and culture on which Western civilization is founded, and it expresses his desire to restore direct contact with nature, understood as a matrix of form and language.
Wind Line Walk, 1992, and Sella Circle. An Eight Days Walk in the South Tyrol, Italy, 1996, are two examples of the ways in which the artist documents his travels in the natural environment, through, respectively, graphic signs that create a sort of map of the winds along a given route; and photographs that document a circle of stones, an ephemeral sculpture created on site. The temporary stone sculptures are among Long ’s best-known works, which he has also replicated in different exhibition spaces, as in the case of Romulus Circle, 1994, made up of tufa stones found in Lazio. The delineation of a pure geometric form is an eminently intellectual act, which, nevertheless in Long ’s work is rooted in the organic world and is not abstract a priori.
Geometry is experienced by the artist as a way of communicating the universal and the elemental, recalling
the most ancient forms of civilization.
The same principle governs Rivoli Mud Circle, 1996, the result of manipulating mud directly on the museum wall to draw a large circle made up of the artist ’s handprints, in a direct involvement of the entire body in the creative act. Waterline ,1989,in contrast, consists of a black vinyl strip,8 11 /16 inches long. On this surface Long has created an uninterrupted pictorial intervention, allowing white acrylic paint to drip onto it from above, which indicates a pure vital gesture caught in the act of becoming language.