English sculptor, photographer and painter. He studied at West of England College of Art in Bristol (1962–5) and from 1966 to 1968 at St Martin’s School of Art, London, where his fellow students included other artists who were redefining the terms of sculpture in England, among them Hamish Fulton, Jan Dibbets, Gilbert and George and John Hilliard. Within a year of his departure from St Martin’s, Long was closely associated with the emergence of a new art form, Land art, having already produced such works as A Line Made by Walking (1967; London, Tate), a photograph of the trail left in the grass by walking back and forth in a straight line; another work, England (1968; London, Tate), consists of an X shape made by cutting off the heads of flowers in a field, again presented in the form of a photograph.
Long made his international reputation during the 1970s with sculptures made as the result of epic walks, sometimes lasting many days, to remote parts of the world, including desert regions of Africa as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Norway. Guided by a great respect for nature and by the formal structure of basic shapes, especially circles, he never allowed facile exotic connotations to intrude into his work, although some of his sculptures evoked the mysterious connotations of ancient stone circles and other such monuments. Different modes of presentation, sometimes combined, were used to bring his experience of nature back into the museum or gallery. These included, above all, photographs documenting the sculptures left behind in their original setting, such as A Somerset Beach, England (1968), made by shifting stones, or Walking a Line in Peru (1972), composed of crushed grass; works combining photographs, maps and emblematic drawings recording a particular journey (e.g. Cerne Abbas Walk, 1975; London, Tate); works consisting simply of handwritten or printed texts as fragments of an experience of nature; and installations, often in the form of lines, circles or spirals, made from materials gathered together in specific environments (such as wood, mud, slate and other kinds of stone), as in River Avon Driftwood (1976; London, Tate) and Slate Circle (1979; London, Tate). From 1981 he also alluded to the terms of painting by applying mud in a very liquid state by hand to a wall in similar configurations, establishing a dialogue between the primal gesture of the hand-print and the formal elegance of its display. He stressed that the meaning of his work lay in the visibility of his actions rather than in the representation of a particular landscape.
Like other land artists, Long broke with traditional sculptural methods both by conceiving his works outside of the studio, in nature itself, and by rejecting the fetishization of the object through his use of photography, which was still questioned as an artistic medium, and large installations, which were difficult to exploit as commercial commodities. Long distinguished himself from American land artists by the lightness of his interventions on the ground; he saw this both as an ethical principle, in refusing to despoil or exploit the landscape, and as an aesthetic one. Although critics frequently emphasized the continuity between his practice and the English landscape tradition, his work helped establish a new conception of sculpture. It points up the most elementary relations between people and their environment: thus, in order to re-establish and experience again the raw reality of nature, he would trace on a map the geometric figure of his proposed journey over the land, without sparing himself difficulties by taking existing roads. The idea of the walk itself related to certain traditional notions about sculpture, such as stability or the relation to the ground, but with an emphasis on horizontality rather than on the verticality of traditional statuary; the spectator, moreover, is confronted not with the artist’s experience itself but with the indirect evidence of it. Long represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1976 and was the recipient of the Turner Prize, awarded by the Tate Gallery in London, in 1989.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press