Long made A Square of Ground when he was a student at Central St Martin’s College of Art, London (1966-8). It is a roughly square-shaped three-dimensional section of landscape resembling the kind of geographic or geological model that may be found in a museum for the purpose of explaining topographies. The plaster surface has been carefully textured and realistically painted. It depicts a lake and a river surrounded by rocks and set in undulating green terrain. An Irish Harbour (collection the artist) is a similar work made at the same time, depicting a harbour with rocks and sand. Long had made plaster and water pieces about rivers in baking tins at the age of seven or eight. He has commented: ‘I don’t think you can separate childhood from adulthood. I think you are the same person all through your life. So all the sensibilities that energise you as a child sort of flow through.’ (Quoted in Richard Long: Walking in Circles, p.34.) His earliest influences came from the countryside around the city of Bristol and the River Avon where he was born and raised and still lives. A Square of Ground is based on the Bristol Downs, the rolling hills around Bristol familiar to Long and which, at art school in London, he was perhaps missing.
Long has explained his artistic trajectory: ‘In the mid-sixties the language and ambition of art was due for renewal. I felt art had barely recognized the natural landscapes which cover this planet, or had used the experiences those places could offer. Starting on my own doorstep and later spreading, part of my work since has been to try and engage this potential.’ (Quoted in Friis-Hansen, p.9.) A Square of Ground represents a starting point in the exploration of various means of mapping terrain, through text, cartography and photographs, which have become the central tenet of his work. As a sculptural object, created by the artist’s hand, it belongs to a tradition which was just about to be challenged radically. With the advent of Conceptual art and the ‘dematerialisation’ of the art object (Lucy R. Lippard, John Chandler, ‘The Dematerialisation of Art’, Art International, volume 12, no.12, February 1968) this crafted form of sculpture began to be replaced by works emphasising process and action. Long brought the preferred activities of his boyhood - walking, cycling and camping - into his artmaking and started working in the outdoor landscape. For A Line Made by Walking, England 1967 (Tate P07149) he repeatedly trod a path in a field, wearing down the grass in a line which he then photographed. In another early work, Circle of Sticks 1973 (Tate T01783), he collected sticks from Leigh Woods, Bristol and laid them in a circle on the gallery floor. Circle in Africa 1978 (Tate T06890) is a photograph of a circle of burnt cactus arranged on a mountainside in Malawi.
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986, p.45, reproduced p.12
Richard R. Brettell, Dana Friis-Hansen, Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stones, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 1996
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1991
November 2000/October 2001