Richard Long

Waterfall Line


Not on display

Richard Long born 1945
River mud on emulsion
4540 × 145500 mm
Presented by the artist (Building the Tate Collection) 2005


This is a site-specific wall-painting, commissioned for the opening of Tate Modern in May 2000. It comprises a long rectangular area of wall painted black, at which the artist slung white river mud, scrubbing and wiping it with his gloved hands to create a swirling, striped pattern resembling the trace left by an enlarged and simplified paintbrush. This is the texture resulting from outstretched fingers. Long worked in this way on a narrow strip along the top of the black rectangle, allowing the mud to splatter down the broader strip of black background below, creating a pattern reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy brush strokes depicting the leaves of bamboo or an uneven fall of torrential rain. Long’s painting represents literally a waterfall, since it consists of marks made by water, diluted by silt creating mud, falling down the wall. The strong vertical lines created by sliding blobs of mud convey a sense of powerful physical energy as the artist worked quickly and vigorously with his material. A line of solid white expanding into millions of tiny dots at the very base of the work, where the wall joins the floor, resembles the intense spray at the base of a waterfall, where liquid hits a surface of strong resistance and is shot back upwards. This emphasises the sense of energy in the creation of the work. Long has commented:

The mud works are another aspect of the physicality of my work, like the walking. I always have a precise idea of the overall form of the work, which is balanced by the spontaneity of the execution. The speed of the hand gestures is important because that’s what makes the splashes, which shows the wateriness of the mud, and water is the main subject and content of these works, they show its nature. (Quoted in Friis-Hansen, p.27.)

Long has made many mud-paintings in locations all over the world, predominantly major art museums and galleries. Usually they are on the wall; occasionally they are made on the floor, without the vertical spatter. Varying the source of the mud and the form of the area in which it is worked generates a range of titles. Often the mud wall-paintings are exhibited with one or more of Long’s stone circles, sculptures laid on the ground. Waterfall Line was exhibited with Long’s Red Slate Circle 1988 (Tate T11884) in a room entitled Richard Long and Claude Monet in the Landscape/Matter/Environment display at Tate Modern. During subsequent displays it remains in situ, concealed behind a false wall. In another series of works made with mud, Long dipped large sheets of paper directly into mud and then suspended them vertically, allowing the watery mud to run off in rivulets, leaving long white streaks as they dried (see Untitled 1991, Tate T06555).

Long’s earliest works made with mud involved making prints with his hands and feet. In Line the Length of a Straight Walk from the Bottom to the Top of Silbury Hill 1970 (made at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in 1971), a solid circular spiral of bootprints represents the distance described in the title. He has since made spirals, circles and lines of muddy hand and foot prints on floors and walls; these temporary works are site specific and are washed away at the end of an exhibition. Other mud works are created by pouring a thin stream of mud across the floor in a carefully defined, jagged serpentine line. Long’s primary source of mud is the River Avon, near his birthplace and home in Bristol, but he also uses mud from other sources. Waterfall Line was made with white china clay.

Further reading:
Richard R. Brettell, Dana Friis-Hansen, Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stones, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 1996
Richard Long: Walking the Line, London 2002, reproduced p.266 in colour
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, London 1986

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2005

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