Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Paul Morris Gallery, New York
James Cohen Gallery, New York
Richard Long, 25 March - 24 May 1993, Musee d'ArtModerne de la Ville de Paris
Untitled (Mud Drawing), 1992 is an early example of Long’s works on paper made from mud sourced from the River Avon in Bristol – a city where the artist was born, brought up and still lives to this day. Longs’ use of this very particular, natural material adds an implicitly personal, autobiographical quality to the work and he has been known to transport this mud with him all over the world to make wall paintings with it in other countries.
The artist describes the mud from this particular region as ‘squidgy clay’ and he clearly enjoys the tactile and immediate nature of his process - working directly with the materials in his hands. Long is also keenly aware of the geological history of the clay which has been formed by the movement of water over millions of years. In the introduction to his solo exhibition Richard Long: Walking and Marking at the National Galleries of Scotland in 2007, the artist explains to curator Patrick Elliott the evolution of his mud works:
‘The first things I ever made were mud pies on the front path of my parent’s home in Bristol where we lived. Apart from the childhood mud pies, there was a model of the River Avon I made when I was about eleven, with the tide going in and out of these little creeks. Then fast forwarding to my professional career, in 1969, when the tide was out in the river, I made a rainbow across a mudbank using powder-paint colours. The photo shows the rainbow and also the deep footprints from making it. The first time I made an actual mud work was on the floor with my boots, it was my second show at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf in 1969; it was a mud spiral. Even though it was made by footprints, I considered that work to be a sculpture, it just happened to be two-dimensional. So the first mud works were actually flat sculptures made on the floor. Then after that the next one I did was in 1971 in the Sperone Gallery in Turin, which was one with my hands on the floor. It was only much later that I realised I could do the same kind of mark making on a wall. That day was maybe 10 years later in the late 1970s.’
As Long makes clear here, the notion of making marks with the hands or feet was present from the very beginning of his practice. His works comprising circles, rings, spirals and lines of hand and foot prints made in mud originate from his observation of the prints left by his feet outdoors in the earth. Referring to his work as a whole, Long has commented: ‘Everything is mediated through my body’ and delving into this point deeper, he explains: ‘My work is really a self-portrait, in all ways. So, for example, to walk across a country is both a measure of the country itself (its size, shape and terrain) and also of myself (how long it takes me and not somebody else). In other works, like my hand circles in mud, or waterlines, my work is more obviously an image of my gestures.’ The imprints left by Long in his fingerprint works in particular, reference the artist in a very clear way.
Long’s belief in the emotional power of simple, archetypal, motifs is particularly visible in his fingerprint works. Each, executed spontaneously, has a simple rhythmic logic, reminiscent of tribal patternings and indeed, the artist has acknowledged this reference: ‘I feel there is a spirit in my work which is close to all that, a primitive element, just working with my hands with the natural materials of the earth, like clay or mud or water. Different reasons, different context, but a direct human line from cave paintings.’ Here the prints take on a circular motif, which is emphasized by the rich contrast in materials - the dark, textured, muddy prints against the light-coloured, thick paper result in a striking image.
1 Patrick Elliott, exh. cat, Richard Long: Walking and Marking, National Galleries of Scotland in 2007, p56
2 Ibid, p51
3 Richard Long in conversation with Stephen Snoddy, Director of The New Art Gallery Walsall, seen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVCEku5SAWo
4 The artist cited in Richard Long: São Paulo Bienal 1994, exhibition catalogue, The British Council, London 1994
5 The artist in conversation with Lucy Badrocke (editor), June 2015, cited in Richard Long: Time and Space, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini, Bristol, 2015, p166