Richard Long

Cairngorm Stones


Not on display

Richard Long born 1945
Photograph on paper with hand-written text
Support: 814 × 1118 mm
frame: 832 × 1138 × 43 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d'Offay 2010
On long term loan


This black and white photograph depicts a snowy, mountainous landscape with a sculpture by Richard Long in the foreground. The sculpture consists of a line of upended stones arranged almost parallel to the picture plane. The sculpture and the stony ground on which it is made take up just under a third of the composition, with the landscape beyond dominating the frame. Beneath the photograph, on the off-white mount, the title ‘CAIRNGORM STONES’ is handwritten in red pencil. Beneath this, handwritten in graphite pencil, are the words ‘A FOUR DAY WALK, SCOTLAND 2001’, with pencil guidelines visible above and below the letters.

As the handwritten text indicates, the sculpture was created during the artist’s four-day walk in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland in 2001. The view in the photograph looks down to the winding River Dee from the southern slopes of Ben Macdui, the highest peak in the Cairngorms. Cairn Toul, the second highest peak in the Cairngorms, can be seen on the right hand side of the photograph. Long has been making works in Scotland since he was a student, most notably Untitled [Ben Nevis Hitchhike] 1967 (Tate T02065), for which the artist hitchhiked and walked from London to the peak of Britain’s highest mountain. For Long the Scottish Highlands are an ideal location for such walking works, since most of them are ‘still wilderness, most of the Highlands are still possible for people to walk.’ (Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.71.)

The sculpture itself is dwarfed by the impressive landscape, as it almost blends into the scree-covered ground on which it is made. The work involved placing rocks from the surrounding area into a line of roughly uniform width, with each rock placed on its end so that it sat proud on the ground to form a set of standing stones. Long has emphasised the practical reasons for using stones as a sculptural material outdoors: ‘I like stones, so I use them, in the same way I make art by walking because I like walking. Stones are practical, they are common, they exist almost all over the world, they are easy to pick up and carry, they are all unique, universal and natural.’ (Quoted in Alison Sleeman, Richard Long: Mirage, London 1998, p.12.)

Long has created sculptures on mountains throughout his career, making his first on the summit of Kilimanjaro in 1969. Since the artist has to move the heavy stones after the initial ascent of the mountain, building sculptures at this altitude requires exceptional physical fitness. Long finds this process exhilarating however, with the elevated sites of his mountain sculptures representing, as he puts it, ‘the culminating, celebratory (or lost) energy of the climb that has brought me to that place.’ (Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.34.)

Long often leaves his sculptures to be gradually reabsorbed into the landscape. At other times he replaces the materials so that the landscape is left as he found it. He decided on the latter, for instance, with an earlier work of standing stones created in Scotland, A Line in Scotland 1981 (reproduced in Wallis 2009, p.110). Either way the sculptures are perishable, subject to constantly changing natural and human conditions. As Long has explained:

I come to some mountains and I move some stones around and then I disappear. The mountains are changed, some stones are in a different place. But who has moved them and how it looks, that is not the important part. The only important thing is that the stones have been moved. They are visible but invisible as art.
(Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.85.)

Further reading
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007.
Clarrie Wallis (ed.), Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009.

Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
January 2014

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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