Summary

Since his earliest practice, begun in the late 1960s, Long has based his art on the action of walking in the natural landscape. With his seminal work, A Line Made By Walking 1967 (Tate P07149) – a photograph showing a straight line worn in a field of grass by the repeated movement of the artist’s feet over it – Long established the simple act of walking as a gesture of primordial mark-making fundamental to the creation of art. In the context of late 1960s conceptualism, Long’s act may be seen as a subversion of the traditionally expressive gesture central to painting. Walking is non-expressive, a mechanical movement which permits the body to travel from one point to another. In a similar way, the line joining one point to another is fundamental to the process of drawing – the logical means of connection on which cartography is based. Lines imposed on the environment are usually the result of processes of measuring, map-making and creating roads and are forced by the contours of the earth’s surface to compromise the ideal logic of straightness. Unlike lines on paper, they have to exist in three dimensions, taking on a physicality of their own and appearing different depending on where they are viewed from. They become sculptural forms.

In the 1970s Long extended his process of making transient marks on the landscape to include another primordial human activity: the collection and organisation of raw materials found within the environment. Over the decades he has extended the straight line to encompass the cross, the square, the circle, the spiral, concentric rings, parallel lines, the crooked line, the heap, the dribble, the scratch; every possible means of making marks in nature with what is to hand, using simple actions with the artist’s hands or feet, is covered in Long’s oeuvre. He has covered many different kinds of terrain, walking extensively in England, particularly in the south west around Bristol, which is his home, and travelling to far off, deserted and spectacular wild landscapes.

The results of Long’s actions may be brought into the gallery and laid out on the floor, resulting in a sculptural work, or they are photographed in situ, resulting in a picture. A Line in the Himalayas is one of several photographs resulting from a walk Long undertook in the Nepalese Himalayas in 1975. It shows a rough rocky terrain and snow-covered jagged peaks – a harsh, barren landscape typical to places of high altitude. The sky is a deep, clear blue, tinting the snow and the white rocks. Beginning in the foreground and disappearing into the chaotic texture of dark mountain scree to the side of the image, a narrow raised line of white stones lies almost straight on the landscape. With no human or animal presence of any kind, it is hard to gauge the scale of the stones and rocky outcrops which appear to encompass a great distance: between the foreground and the mountains in the far distance there is no middle ground.

Long photographed this line of stones twice. Another version of A Line in the Himalayas 1975 (Sanders Collection, Amsterdam) is a black and white photograph centred on the line. Beginning with a small lump of ice, it bisects the image dramatically. In the colour version, the line is more subtle, appearing almost incidental. Both images are unique prints.

Further reading:
Richard Long: Walking the Line, London 2002, reproduced p.4 in colour
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, London 1986, pp.86 and 134-5
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London 1991, p.62

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2005