A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 22 April 2010

I Walk The Line

I've wanted to write something on this blog about Richard Long for ages. Long's art is hard to define in a few words. He makes art in the natural landscape from pieces of it - sticks, stones, seaweed, slates, pine needles. Out of these naturally evolved, 'found' objects he creates alignments, cairns, circles, spirals and other forms. These temporary structures made of natural materials are then left to the elements to be worked on and altered by nature itself. But he also uses his own two feet to crease lines, marks, patterns and indentations into the landscape - all in quite soft and eco-friendly ways. These consciously placed imprints may last for some time or may disappear overnight. Long deliberately seeks this impermanent, transient quality in his art. Only the photographs he takes remain as a record of the tracks and traces of his brief passing. The artist himself is invisible, has walked on.

Long is a walking artist - but not in any grand, Romantic, Wordsworthian sense. His eyes are fixed firmly on the ground, watching his feet and where they are taking him. He often walks in straight lines, measuring his progress by leaving stones at equal distances along the path. He's excited by the very idea of walking itself - and all the different styles of walking: walking as exercise and recreation; walking as a channel for reflection or poetic inspiration; walking as pilgrimage. But he's interested above all in new and original ways of walking. Once he threw a stone all the way round an Irish mountain which resulted in just one photograph - captioned Throwing A Stone Around McGillycuddy's Reeks (1977).

Such philosophical ideas about walking, and about old and new ways to walk, interest me too. I'm reminded of Tubewalkers, who trace the London Tube lines above ground from station to station, like human metal detectors or dowsing rods; Pyrenean and Alpine shepherds who still practise transhumance by walking herds and flocks to higher pastures for the summer; walker-adventurers who follow as closely as possible a particular line of latitude or longitude; walker-writers like Iain Sinclair who pioneered his own London orbital walking route shadowing the M25 motorway.

There are many different ways in which to walk and many different paths to follow - both literal and metaphorical. When I think about it, this is in essence what my blog's really about, the common theme which runs through its variousness. Walking in a line or in a circle; walking up a mountain or round a mountain; walking for penitential, religious reasons or purely for pleasure; walking for recreation or inspiration; walking solo or with others; city walking or rural walking; walking across the world or walking in one's own back yard; walking in the mind; walking through life; just walking per se, on its own - can be a creative and artistic act.

The top picture is Richard Long's A Line In Scotland (1981) and the bottom picture is Richard Long's A Line Made By Walking (1967).


George said...

This is a stunningly beautiful and inspirational piece of writing, SW, one that touches me personally on many levels. It is gratifying to find someone who understands the immeasurable joys and infinite possibilities of walking.

As a longtime admirer of Andy Goldsworthy's work, I am fascinated by Long's creative process and would like to learn more about him. When creativity ceases to be about the making of a product, and becomes instead an integral part of living itself, magical things can happen.

In about six weeks, I will begin the coast-to-coast walk across England, from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea. Your posting has left me more excited than ever about that upcoming journey.

Thanks for the fine little essay. I think I will copy it and place it between my books on Goldsworthy and my small edition of Thoreau's "Walking."

The Weaver of Grass said...

PS Have just read George's comment!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reminds me rather of Andy Goldsworthy, Robert - would you say they are of the same ilk?

The Solitary Walker said...

That's a fine walk, George, I envy you. I haven't done that particular route, but I have walked the Pennine Way, which intersects with the Coast-to-Coast at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. There's quite a nice private hostel you can stay in overnight -which used to be the old youth hostel. End of May/early June will be a good time of year to walk it, I think.

Yes, Pat, I wss going to mention Andy Goldsworthy - and Hamish Fulton (he's another like-minded walking artist) - in a future post.

martine said...

Very thought provoking.
thanks for sharing

gleaner said...

Yes very much like Andy Goldsworthy who visited here a few months ago - he too was quick to reject the Romantic Wordsworthian notion and any poetic fantasies about his work. After the discussion it was amusing to hear some audience members asking questions still in disbelief that he refused to see his work as symbolic or new-age...in contrast, he seemed to represent more with his Yorkshire farmer days.

P.S. As I have stopped blogging, I have also stopped reading many blogs but still visit here - and must say I loved all the recent quotes on your other blog. It was great to read the Hamlet quotes and just reminds me that not only are there so many books I want to read, there are so many books I want to re-read too.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your commment, Martine.

Yes. Bella, I like Goldsworthy's down-to-earth approach to his work. He's been involved for many years with a fantastic project in the South of France - interlinking old footpaths with renovated stone buildings containing alcoves, reliefs and other artworks, and, in the open air, egg-shaped stone sentinels. Thanks for carrying on reading. I'll take the link to your blog off my list for now - but of course will put it back if and when you start blogging again! Best, SW

Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting post: got me thinking about walking. A friend and I, when we lived in London, often fantasized about walking across it, East to West. We decided it would be almost as much fun as the hill walking we were doing at the time. Unfortunately, we never got round to it. Windows of opportunity were usually filled with Welsh mountains instead!

gleaner said...

SW, Andy spoke about his project in France and had a slideshow of the stone buildings and pathways he had built for the walkers - in that moment I dreamed of visiting there!

Thanks for taking my link away - I was feeling guilty that I haven't even be able to write an explanation post or something. I do have brief moments of wanting to return or maybe creating a new and different blog, but for the most part I've lost interest in blog world - except for my few favourites.