River Avon Book has a black front cover on which the words ‘RIVER AVON BOOK | RICHARD LONG’ are handwritten in white pencil crayon. The book has around thirty off-white, hand-made pages with torn edges featuring horizontal streaks of light-brown mud. On some pages the mud streaks are thicker and darker while on others they are thinner and more mottled, evoking rivulets across the pages.
Long created the pages of this book by dipping sheets of paper into silty wet mud taken from the River Avon in Bristol. He then hung up each sheet to allow the water to run off, leaving streaks of dried mud on its surface. These papers were then hand-bound into a book. The artist has explained:
I think the first mud work on paper was River Avon Book of 1979, where I had the idea to make this book with the pages dipped in muddy water. So I got all these sheets, quite big sheets, and after they had been dipped in the muddy water they were cut down and bound into these books. That was the first time I used paper with mud on it.
(Elliot 2006, p.51.)
Although he has also worked with mud taken from other rivers, Long frequently uses mud from the River Avon and has even taken it abroad for use in exhibitions. Referring to the Avon as his ‘home’ river – since it runs through Bristol, where he was born – Long says:
My first natural playground was the cliff of the Avon Gorge and the towpath by the river. So even as a kid I was fascinated by the enormous tide, and the mud banks, and the wash of the boats as they swept past. You have this wash sweeping up the mud … muddy creeks … I guess it’s right to say that I have used that experience in my art: like water, the tides, the mud. All that cosmic energy is there in my work.
(Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.112.)
River Avon Book is unique due to the method of its creation, but Long used the same technique to create an edition of 106. Another book in the edition is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Tate curator Andrew Wilson has noted of this edition that ‘in holding this book you literally hold the river … the pace of the turning pages akin to the shifting currents. Each page of each book is thus a unique and real image and each book is different from another as is each page, one from another’ (Andrew Wilson in Wallis 2009, p.199). Long has used a similar ‘mud drawing’ technique for other works, such as River Avon Mud Drawings, Ten Mud-Dipped Papers 1988 (Tate AR00616) and Untitled 1991 (Tate T06555).
Anne Seymour, Richard Long: Old World, New World, London 1988, p.59.
Patrick Elliot, Richard Long: Walking and Marking, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2006, p.51.
Clarrie Wallis, Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, p.199.