Hamish Fulton first came to prominence in the late 1960s as one of a group of young British artists which includes Richard Long, born 1945 (see Tate P03132) who created a new kind of landscape art. A central characteristic of this was the artists’ direct physical engagement with the landscape. In Fulton’s case he began to make carefully structured walks, and although he has been variously classified as a sculptor, photographer, conceptual artist, or land artist, he prefers to characterise himself as a ‘walking artist’. Since 1973 he has committed himself to the principle ‘no walk, no work’ and all his subsequent works have focused on the experience of walking in a specific place at a specific time. Gravity Nothing Rhythms, Alaska is a large vinyl text wall work that refers to one of Fulton’s longest walks to date: twenty-one days in the remote Wrangell St Elias region of Alaska in 1999.
The work consists of seven lines of text comprising cut black and white vinyl capital lettering applied to a wall painted blue and is installed to the full width of the wall on which it is sited. Each line of text contains three words, each of which is seven letters long. The words are alternately white and black with a white edging, and italic or non-italic. The overall effect is of a grid of letters which gradually reveal themselves as coherent words. The simple colours of the work evoke the stark landscapes of ice, rock, snow and sky through which the artist travelled. The words reflect various experiences en route and also the forces that have shaped the landscape. In the suggestion of a sequence of words running to the left, the possibility of narrative appears to be offered but is in fact denied. The scale of the work (when installed at Tate Britain in 2002 it was 12 metres across) means that it cannot be taken in at one glance; it therefore requires the viewer to move along the wall in order to read all the words.
Fulton has been making works directly on the walls of galleries since 1988. The wall works are either painted directly onto the wall or (as in this case) are made with cut vinyl lettering applied to painted areas on the wall. Fulton designs the works and oversees the installation, but does not physically apply the vinyl himself. As he has said: ‘My attitude is that I leave that work to the people who do it best. It’s not like making a unique painting on a canvas. [...] What I’m after is a professional, commercial finish in every location.’ (‘Specific Places and Particular Events: Hamish Fulton interviewed by Ben Tufnell’ in Hamish Fulton: Walking Journey, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain 2002, p.109) The works are carefully revised by Fulton for each specific location and for the proportions of the wall on which the work is to be made.
Hamish Fulton: Walking Journey, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain 2002
John E. Grande, Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists, Albany, 2004, pp. 129-39
Hamish Fulton: Walking Artist, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, 1998