This black and white photograph depicts a barren, rocky landscape with cliffs in the distance and a cloudy sky above. In the lower half of the image a ring of stones can be seen on the ground, although it appears elliptical due to the angle of the camera. The sense of spatial recession is enhanced by the parallel crevices in the surface of the rocky ground that lead from the bottom corners of the print to the centre of the image. Beneath the photograph, on the off-white mount, the title ‘A CIRCLE IN IRELAND’ is handwritten in red pencil, and beneath this is the location and date of the piece, ‘COUNTY CLARE 1975’, handwritten in graphite pencil.
Long arranged the stones into a circle while walking in the west of Ireland, a terrain which the artist has described as ‘my type of landscape, a sort of stony, wet desert, also with a lot of nice people and a lot of humour and beautiful music’ (Long 1991, p.249). The artist has made many other works in Ireland, including Connemara Sculpture 1971 (Tate AL00215) and Roisin Dubh – A Slow Air 1976 (Tate P03132). A Circle in Ireland was made in County Clare in the karst landscape known as the Burren. This area was created by glacial processes and consists of limestone pavements with slabs (‘clints’) through which cracks or ‘grikes’ run. In Long’s photograph the Cliffs of Moher are visible on the horizon.
In his photograph Long has used the grikes to emphasise the perspective lines, drawing the eye to the sculpture. The man-made curved form of the circle serves to interrupt the naturally occurring straight lines of this landscape. As Long says: ‘You could say that my work is also a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work.’ (Long 1991, p.250.)
Long first arranged stones into a circle to create an artwork while he was walking in the Andes mountains in South America (see Circle in the Andes 1972, reproduced in Long 1991, p.78). The circle is one of the most common geometric forms in Long’s work. When working in the landscape, the artist uses materials found naturally in the immediate vicinity, a practice that has produced circles made from a range of materials, from stone, such as A Circle in Ireland, wood, including A Circle in Alaska 1977 (Tate AL00212), and even cacti, such as Circle in Africa 1978 (Tate AL00218). He has also used the circle as a shape around which to construct a walk, as in Concentric Days 1996 (Tate AR00213). Long has remarked: ‘A circle is beautiful, powerful, but also neutral and abstract. I realised it could serve as a constant form, always with new content. A circle could carry a different walking idea, or collection of stones, or be in a different place, each time.’ (Cited in Alison Sleeman, Richard Long: Mirage, London 1998, p.13.)
Richard Long (ed.), Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, reproduced p.57.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, pp.69, 101.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, reproduced p.105.
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