Summary

This is a sculpture comprising five concentric rings of white marble pebbles laid on the floor. The rings are ten centimetres wide and ten centimetres apart, radiating out from a central space twenty centimetres in diameter. The outer circle is two metres in diameter. To make this work, the pebbles, of roughly even size (between fifteen and twenty-five centimetres wide), are poured in one or two layers in between circles drawn on the floor. The surfaces are then smoothed with the fingertips. Long has specified that there should be an even density of stones in each circle, writing, in his installation instructions, ‘the whole work should look balanced and circular’ (Small White Pebble Circles certificate, gallery records, Tate Archives, London).

In an early work, England 1967 (Anthony D’Offay, London), Long arranged concentric circles using segments of plywood painted white on an area of grassland. Circular outlines, circular spirals, solid circles and concentric rings have subsequently featured frequently in his work. Since 1967 he has based his art on the action of walking in a natural landscape. As well as arranging objects encountered on his walks at points along the way, Long has brought such organic elements as sticks and stones into gallery and museum spaces. Here, as on his walks, he lays them in such geometric configurations as circles, straight lines, crosses and square-shaped spirals. Circle of Sticks 1973 (Tate T01783) is a circle composed of seventy-six twigs from Leigh Woods, near Bristol (Long’s home), laid end to end on the gallery floor, delineating the outline of a circle. Later works, like Norfolk Flint Circle 1990 (T06483) and South Bank Circle 1991 (T07159), are solid circles made on the floor using larger stones acquired from quarries. It is not known where the pebbles in Small White Pebble Circles come from.

Stone is one of the earliest materials used by man, to fashion tools, construct dwellings, create monuments and to mark territory. Long has picked up and arranged stones on his walks in many of the world’s most remote locations. He has commented: ‘everything has its right place in the world. There are millions of stones in the world, and when I make a sculpture, all I do is just take a few of those stones and bring them together and put them in a circle and show you ... I use stones because I like stones or because they’re easy to find, without being anything special, so common you can find them anywhere ... It’s enough to use stones as stones, for what they are. I’m a realist.’ (Quoted in Richard Long: Walking in Circles, p.45.) Bringing together the unevenly shaped pebbles in the geometric structure of the circles, the sculpture illustrates a theme common in Long’s work, the relationship between man and nature. As he has explained, ‘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, p.250).

Further reading:
Monique Beudert, Sean Rainbird, Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, p.9, reproduced (colour) p.37
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1991

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2001