Red Slate Circle is a solid circle composed of rocks that have a flat underside, cut to sit evenly on the gallery floor. The remaining areas of the rock have been left unfinished resulting in a striking, jagged texture as the hunks of red slate point upwards into the space of the gallery. Long brought the red slate from the border of Vermont and New York State in America. In installation the rocks are arranged carefully to fit within the predetermined diameter of the circle – in this case four metres wide – to create a landscape of intricately textured and vividly coloured rock. They are laid out in such a way that no piece of slate touches another piece. Red Slate Circle was installed in the room titled Richard Long and Claude Monet
in the display Landscape/Matter/Environment for the opening of Tate Modern in May 2000. It was complemented by Waterfall Line (Tate T11970), a site-specific wall drawing Long created from white mud.
The relationship between man and nature is at the heart of Long’s work. Walking in the natural environment takes him both to ordinary countryside and to spectacular wild locations where he may create temporary, in situ sculptures from the materials to hand – rocks, twigs or water. While these usually involve assembling the elements in a circle or a line, they may also involve such simple gestures as pouring (water) and kicking or throwing (rocks). Long documents these sculptures or actions photographically and the photographs become the finished work. Another way of exhibiting such actions is to bring stones or sticks into the gallery space and create a more permanent sculpture on the floor. Long has made many circular sculptures from stones including Small White Pebble Circles 1987 (Tate T07160), comprising five concentric rings of white pebbles, Slate Circle 1979 (Tate T03027), a solid circle over six metres in diameter of slate sections that never touch arranged in a random pattern, South Bank Circle 1991 (Tate T07159), a two metre solid circle of abutting slate sections, and Norfolk Flint Circle (Tate T06483), a solid circle, eight metres in diameter, of closely packed large flints created by the artist specifically for Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries in 1990.
Long’s early interventions in nature in the late 1960s allied him with the movement known as Land Art. With their simple, reductive and repetitive logic, his sculptures suggest a type of minimalism, but one which depends entirely on the human hand or body and on nature, not the manufactured materials and industrial production normally associated with this movement. Rocks are the most elemental of materials, the basic substance from which the earth is made and the earliest means for human creativity and survival, providing tools for hunting and grinding foods, flints for fire, cave walls for shelter and on which to paint and stones for route markers, monuments and making walls. In a similar way, like the line, the circle is one of the most basic, elemental forms in drawing and belongs to the simplest geometry. In his sculptures made of stones laid on the floor, Long unites the substance of the earth with elementary expression, explaining, ‘you could say that my work is ... 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.’ (Quoted in Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1991 p.250.)
Richard R. Brettell, Dana Friis-Hansen, Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stones, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 1996
Richard Long: Walking the Line, London 2002, reproduced p.266 in colour
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London 1991