Richard Long. Delabole Slate. 1980. Part of the exhibition Contested Ground. Leeds Art Gallery.


Richard Long is my favourite land artist. His work is terse, gritty and often very beautiful, describing physical experience and interaction with the landscape, a walk or an action, which can take days of sustained effort. This is distilled into a photograph, framed text, or carefully chosen objects which he brings back and places in a gallery. He takes the essence of a place or an experience and lays it out for us to wonder over. What he brings back or remembers is transformed into something new and surprising, carrying its own history into the gallery space with it as well as retaining the memory and experience of the artist. It is no nonsense art, tough and self confident, and as you look at it you can see the man who made it striding out, looking and searching.

IMG_0020IMG_0026His large stone circle Delabole Slate, made in 1980, is a record of such a journey. Delabole village is in Cornwall and it is also the site of a large slate quarry. Seeing the rough hewn hunks of rock in the pristine gallery environment, arranged into a circle full of texture, muted earth colours and strength, is a strange experience. The rocks shouldn’t really be in a gallery, they belong out on an open hillside, and yet they are also completely at home. You are brought up close to something quite ordinary, none of the rocks forming the circle would catch your eye on their own, and shown it in a context which makes you look carefully and see properly what might go unnoticed. These rocks are the heart of the beauty of the Cornish landscape, the hard skeleton from which it is made, and they have an uncompromising presence and strength. In contrast they have been chosen with care and positioned with great delicacy. The stone circle has ancient religious resonances too, which feed into the work and remind us of their age and powerful associations. They have a powerful history as metamorphic rocks formed by fire 450- 650 million years ago and nothing else around them has that kind of ancient pedigree. In a way these particular rocks represent their whole kind and thinking of them in that way gives them great dignity. They have been chosen, brought here, and placed as an offering to us all after their long wait in the ground.

While I was looking at the circle a weathered man in dirty walking boots was showing it to his son. That made a very satisfying conjunction that I think Richard Long might have enjoyed.


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