A Line Made by Walking by Richard Long

Richard Long

A Line Made by Walking, 1967, Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper and graphite on board, 375 x 324 mm, Tate; Purchased 1976, P07149, © 2019 Richard Long. All Rights Reserved, DACS, London / ARS, NY; Photo: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

Straight and True

Commentary by

The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight. (Proverbs 11:26 NRSV)

Richard Long was still a sculpture student at St Martin’s School of Art in London when he made A Line Made by Walking in 1967. A deceptively modest work, it is now recognized as seminal, both for his own oeuvre in what would be a long career, and for the history of post-war sculpture, conceptual art, minimalism, and land art.

A Line Made by Walking works in more than one temporal register. It is a photographic trace of a brief, time-bound, live action by one man on one summer’s day in 1967. The image shows an ordinary field in the southwest of England, and a straight line ahead over the field. It was made by Long walking back and forth, repeatedly, wearing down the grass to impress a light, linear marking on the earth. It is also a lasting material record of that action’s imprint on the land, in the form of a photograph, printed together with an inscription on the mount below, which reads: ‘A LINE MADE BY WALKING. ENGLAND 1967’.

Long is one of the first generation of artists who worked using nature and documentary methods in this way in the late 1960s, mediating between the outdoors and the gallery. The work tended to be unobtrusive and ephemeral, before more monumental earthworks began to be made, particularly by American land artists.

In its simplicity, clarity, modesty, and harmony with nature, A Line Made by Walking also offers some suggestive parallels with the qualities of virtue praised in Proverbs: accuracy; the ‘uprightness’ that ensures one’s way is not crooked (11:3, 11); the ‘righteousness of the blameless’ that ‘keeps their ways straight’ (11:5).

Long has since undertaken many long-distance walks, across the world. He says:

I am interested in … the universal similarities between things, but also in the great differences between places, because each place on earth is absolutely unique. (Long and Cork 1991: 249–50)

Footpaths especially interest him in this context because the walking of pathways is a universal part of human experience and yet paths are always specific. Like the paths of virtue commended in the book of Proverbs, every path, ‘no matter where it is’ is at the same time ‘one footstep after another’ (Long and Cork 1991: 249–50).

 

References

Long, Richard and Richard Cork. 1991 [1988]. ‘An Interview with Richard Long by Richard Cork’, in Richard Long: Walking in Circles (London: Thames and Hudson), pp. 248–52

Read next commentary