Summary

Long’s print Waterlines was produced in response to a commission by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London. London-based writer and curator Richard Cork selected six artists who were each invited to create a print, to be published in an edition of 250, for hospitals in the National Health Service. Long was selected together with British artists Helen Chadwick, Anish Kapoor, Bruce McLean, Thérèse Oulton and Kate Whiteford. The portfolio contains both screenprints and etchings, published collectively by the King’s Fund, London. The Tate’s portfolio contains seven works (including two by Kapoor). These may be found at P11265, P11267-9 and P11270-1.

Waterlines is composed of text. As is standard in Long’s work, the words, all in capitals, are printed in the Gill Sans typeface. The ink is deep turquoise blue in colour, similar to the colour of the sea and the sky on a brilliant sunny day. Centred below the title and above the date, the text reads: ‘each day a waterline/ poured from my water bottle/ along the walking line// from the Atlantic shore to the Mediterranean shore/ a 560 mile walk in 20 ½ days across Portugal and Spain’. These words describe an event undertaken by the artist. They provide information which is specific but lacking in precise detail. Duration and distance covered, together with a generalised location, provide the parameters for the viewer’s imaginative interpretation. Water, invisibly marking the route taken by the artist, is the additional element connecting the starting and end points of the journey constituted by the shores of two seas. Long has commented: ‘Getting myself into these solitary days of repetitive walking or in empty landscapes is just a certain way of emptying out or simplifying my life, just for those few days or weeks, into a fairly simple but concentrated activity ... my art is a simplification.’ (Quoted in Richard Long: Walking in Circles, p.251.)

Long’s first text-only work was made for the seminal exhibition of Conceptual art curated by Harald Szeemann at the Bern Kunsthalle in Switzerland in 1969 called When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head. A Walking Tour in the Berneroberland 1969 (whereabouts unknown) was a poster bearing simply the title, the artist’s name, and the dates of a ten day period during which the ‘action’ took place. It describes the primary focus of all Long’s subsequent work, the action of walking in the natural landscape. Maps, drawn lines and photographs, like words, record the activity of walking and bring it into the gallery space. These all articulate processes of measuring time and space in various ways. Linked to this, the transient trace left on the landscape by the action of Long’s walk provides a gesture symbolising the tradition of the mark made by the artist on his materials. Long first explored this in A Line Made by Walking, England 1967 (Tate P07149), a photograph of a line worn by his feet walking back and forth in a meadow. In Waterlines the trace takes the form of poured water and Long’s means of recording it is words.

Ten Days Walking and Sleeping on Natural Ground 1986 (Tate T05033) is another text-only work by Long.

Further reading:
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, reproduced (colour) p.98
Richard R. Brettell, Dana Friis-Hansen, Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stones, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 1996

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2000/October 2001