This work consists of ten framed works on paper, which are displayed in a single row. Each sheet shows vertical streaks of light-brown mud on textured off-white paper. The marks on the paper are thinner and more numerous at the top and become thicker towards the bottom. A horizontal thin white line in which little or no mud appears is visible at the bottom of each page.
Richard Long made these works, which he terms drawings, by dipping each page into wet mud taken from the River Avon in Bristol. He hung each sheet up to allow the water to run off, leaving streaks of dried mud on its surface. The results of this process are displayed upside down in the finished artwork, with the runs of muddy water going from the bottom to the top of the pages. The thinning of the streams of mud towards the top of the page testify to this reversal, while the thin white lines at the bottom of the sheets show where the paper was held when dipped in the mud. Although the method by which each of these images has been created is the same, each page is unique: some are darker, others lighter, on some the mud stains are more prominent while on others they are lighter and more mottled. The resulting patterns are largely the effect of chance, with the rivulets of muddy water following the most straightforward path down the paper, in the same way that rivers flow through the landscape on their way downhill.
Long has used similar techniques and materials for other works, such as Book with Mud-Dipped Pages 1979 (Tate AR00144) and Untitled 1991 (Tate T06555). River mud appears in much of the artist’s work, and most prominently in large wall paintings such as River Avon Mud Arc 2000 (Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao). Long enjoys working with river mud for its tactility and material simplicity, as well as for its geological significance, having been created by the movement of water over millions of years. He sees it as ‘a mixture of time, water and stone’ (Tufnell 2007, p.89).
Although he has also worked with mud taken from other rivers, Long frequently uses mud from the River Avon and has even taken some abroad for use in exhibitions. Referring to the Avon as his ‘home’ river – since it runs through Bristol, where he was born and now lives – Long says: ‘I grew up playing along the riverbanks, so the River Avon is a big influence, the huge tide and the mud banks’ (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.99). The Avon has the second highest tides in the world, enormous mud banks on the lower river and mud flats in the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel. The River Avon Mud Drawings could be seen to echo the appearance of the riverbed when the tide is out: a muddy surface covered with an intricate lattice of marks left by the tidal flow.
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007.
Clarrie Wallis, Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009.