Richard Long: Time and Space

Richard Long’s new exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol looks at how his native city has helped shape his unique vision of art throughout his entire career. Central to this, of course, is his idea of “art made by walking in landscapes”. It’s a style and philosophy that was first realised in Bristol, then nurtured to spectacular effect and finally articulated throughout the rest of the world.
Time and Space, which is part of the programme celebrating the city’s 12-month stint as European Green Capital, examines, in particular, the important formative period of his life and how it helped develop this natural and universal language of art. It discusses then, Long’s relationship to his immediate environment and the materials he sourced locally, helping explain how his distinct idea of land art was cultivated.
Although his work can be viewed as being part – or demonstrative – of the spirit of contemporary art in that it appears far removed from the style and reason of its predecessors, what this exhibition also reveals is that Long’s art is also much older in conception.
Associated as it is with walking and its ability to affect, absorb, record and change the landscape within which the activity occurs, his work is as basic as it is avant-garde, which is to say there is a simplicity and purity to it that is unmistakably human. It’s about remembering where we have come from, roots that extend deeper than the place of our birth.
These are roots that go deep into our planet, which is, as a species, our common home. Something we perhaps forget as we estrange ourselves in pursuit of nothing important at all. Long’s work reminds us that there is something beautiful about Earth, this tiny blue dot spinning around in a sea of black. You just have to stop to remember and see.
“Nature has always been a subject of art, from the first cave paintings to twentieth century landscape photography,” he once explained. “I wanted to use the landscape as an artist in new ways. First I started making work outside using natural materials like grass and water, and this led to the idea of making a sculpture by walking.
“This was a straight line in a grass field, which was also my own path, going ‘nowhere’. In the subsequent early map works, recording very simple but precise walks on Exmoor and Dartmoor, my intention was to make a new art which was also a new way of walking: walking as art. Each walk followed my own unique, formal route, for an original reason, which was different from other categories of walking, like travelling.”
Each of these walks, he has said, explored or achieved a certain idea, although one not strictly understood as being conceptual. As such, walking as art allows Long to explore matters of interest to him – time, distance, geography – in a way to makes the most sense to him as an artist and human being.
Time and Space is comprised of works made by Long from 1967 to the present day, including new pieces and recreations of former works. The new works include a large sculpture that has been made from Cornish slate and a “wall work” that has come from mud gathered at River Avon.
Richard Long: Time and Place at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol runs From July 31st to November 15th, 2015.
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