Richard Long draws his inspiration - and makes many of his works - on lengthy walks in the worlds wild places
Richard Long, 62, is one of the great figures of contemporary British art. Born in Bristol, he has gained a worldwide reputation for his beautiful, thought-provoking work expressing mans relationship with the landscape. His new exhibition in Edinburgh, Walking and Marking, is based on the formalised walks and resulting works of art that he has made since the mid1960s.
Joanna Pitman: Your first Scottish museum show was in Edinburgh in 1974, but you have been walking and marking in Scotland since 1967. How does the Scottish landscape influence you as an artist?
Richard Long: My first art-work in Scotland was when I hitch-hiked from London to Ben Nevis and back as a student; but I have walked in the Scottish Highlands many times. The Scottish landscape is very particular, the Highlands are predominantly treeless, and I choose each landscape for the way its particular characteristics will enhance my work.
JP Has your Scottish work drawn you closer to Scottish culture?
RL I have walked much more in Ireland, and I feel particularly drawn to that culture, the literature, the music, humour, the talking. Im more embedded with Irish culture than Scottish, but thats probably because I know it better.
JP What will we see in your exhibition?
RL It will have many parallel themes. One of them is mud. There will be large installed works, large-scale mud wall drawings and a display of mud-dipped works on paper and mud-splash drawings.
Im using mud from the Firth of Forth. Its not quite as good as Avon mud [from where Long grew up and still lives], but it is a local material and I like using local materials. There will be smaller hand works, fingerprint works and drawings I have made over the years. There will be text works and photographic works. There will be a whole room about my work to do with rivers and tides, and a section about stones.
There are three works using stones from Dartmoor. There will be the first line of cut slate I made, in 1980, using slate from the Delabowl quarry in Cornwall. And Im going to use slate from the same quarry to build a cross-shaped sculpture in the gardens behind the gallery. Thats a new work.
JP You are one of the few highly successful artists who still makes all his own works entirely himself. Why is that?
RL Its simply my pleasure. Its my pleasure to do the walking, and those are my footsteps doing the walking, its my fingers that make the fingerprints, my energy that makes the mud works. I think I like being responsible for what I do, but in the end the art is what I gain pleasure from, so I like to do it myself.
Many of the works I make on walks are very simple to make, just a straight line of stones, or a circle. Many of the works you see in photographs have taken perhaps only half an hour to make.
JP Do you worry about climate change?
RL No I dont. I was doing a walk in Ireland not long ago and someone said: Global warming seems to be doing us some good. It was a glorious crystal-clear day, and I think that those of us in temperate climates are actually having a better deal out of global warming. I am grateful for those crystal-clear days when Im out walking. They used to be so rare. No, I dont worry at all because everything is changing all the time; the geology, the landscape, the climate have been changing for millions of years.
JP What about creeping urbanisation in Britain?
RL I am not an urban artist, Im a landscape artist. I like big empty spaces. In the places I go to walk, in the countryside of Britain, for example, the landscape has not really changed since I started.
Ive often said that Im a realist and Ive always chosen the empty wilderness parts of the planet as my arena, the types of empty landscape that still predominantly cover this planet. Thats where I like to make my works, and generally these places havent changed. The Sahara hasnt changed. Large parts of rural Japan havent changed. And Dartmoor hasnt changed at all. I still find England fantastically beautiful. It can still look like Paradise sometimes.
JP You have done several walks in Japan. Did you find the Japanese culture and appreciation of walking, the literary works of Basho, for example, something that enhanced your work?
RL Yes, the Japanese are great walkers and mountaineers, and there is a very long history of walking culture in Japan. So for them, seeing an alien walker like a giant, with an enormous rucksack on his back, was utterly normal. The Japanese people were completely accepting of me. They didnt keep stopping and wanting to give me lifts, which often happens in other countries. Its the story of my life.
JP What is the next walk you are planning?
RL Five and a half weeks ago I broke my leg on a walk in the Cairngorms. The plaster came off a little while ago, but Im still limping with a lightweight splint. I would really like to go back to the Cairngorms for my next project, when Im completely better.