This photograph shows a straight line of trampled grass receding towards tall bushes or trees at the far side of what appears to be a field. Below the photograph, on the off-white paper mount, are the words ‘A LINE MADE BY WALKING’ (handwritten in red pencil) and, below this, ‘ENGLAND 1967’ (handwritten in graphite pencil).
The work documents an action by Richard Long – the creation of a transient line in nature made by repeatedly walking back and forth in a grassy field – which he then photographed from an angle at which the sunlight made the line particularly visible. The artist made this work while still a student at St Martin’s School of Art, London, where his contemporaries included the artists Gilbert & George, Barry Flanagan and Hamish Fulton. Long has described how, in June 1967, he took a train from London’s Waterloo station heading southeast, disembarked after about twenty miles and found the featureless field that was to become the site of A Line Made by Walking. Working outside the walls of the gallery in the expanded space of the real world, he created the first of his many works made by walking.
Long has commented about this work:
Nature has always been recorded by artists, from prehistoric cave paintings to twentieth-century landscape photography. I too wanted to make nature the subject of my work, but in new ways. I started working outside using natural materials like grass and water, and this evolved into the idea of making a sculpture by walking … My first work made by walking, in 1967, was a straight line in a grass field, which was also my own path, going ‘nowhere’. In the subsequent early map works, recording very simple but precise walks on Exmoor and Dartmoor, my intention was to make a new art which was also a new way of walking: walking as art.
(Tufnell 2007, p.39.)
For a seemingly simple and prosaic action to be understood as art was a breakthrough for Long’s artistic career and also anticipated the practice of performance art that was to become widespread during the 1970s. Although no human figure appears in Long’s photograph, A Line Made By Walking presents a trace of corporeal presence and bodily action.
Long has always identified himself as a sculptor, and A Line Made By Walking has been associated by some writers with minimalist sculpture due to its pared down aesthetic (see Roelstraete 2010, p.46). However, unlike conventional minimalist sculpture, A Line Made by Walking was impermanent (the trodden grass would have returned to its natural state within a matter of days). This transience reflects an anti-materialist mode of practice that chimed with what conceptual artists such as Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt and Douglas Huebler were doing in America at the same time. By producing dematerialised art, that had little or no physical form or was ephemeral, the aim was to critique the materialist values of consumer society, and even circumvent the art market. Of course, for many of these artists the work’s materiality was quickly retrieved by photography, and it was the document or record of the work that became the art ‘object’ to be displayed, bought and sold.
Long’s use of the natural environment in A Line Made by Walking has meant that it has also been readily associated with land art, a practice which emerged in the late 1960s in both Europe and America and integrated aspects of minimalism and conceptualism with a direct engagement in the landscape. However, in comparison to the monumental permanent works of the North American land artists (for example Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty 1970 or Michael Heizer’s Double Negative 1969–70), which took significant amounts of mechanised labour to create, Long’s intervention in the landscape was transient and humble. This disparity has meant that Long has been somewhat uneasy about being classified as a ‘land artist’ (see Tufnell 2007, pp.9–10).
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews, London 2007, p.39.
Clarrie Wallis, Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, p.43–6, p.172, reproduced p.44.
Dieter Roelstraete, Richard Long: A Line Made by Walking, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 2010.