Spring Circle

© Richard Long. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2023.


Richard Long (1945 – )


Accession number


In 1967 Richard Long took a radical step forward in the British landscape tradition: he proposed that the relationship between the act of walking and the land was sculpture in itself. For over 40 years he has been marking his walks – the place, time and distance – using raw materials collected en route. He has made lines, crosses, spirals and circles on the spot, from pebbles, flint or driftwood, on forays around his West Country studio or epic expeditions all over the world. He might record his activities with a photograph, a map or a text. Or he might exhibit his action by bringing found materials into the gallery and making geometric configurations on the floor.

With Spring Circle, Long marks a walk through north Cornwall by arranging chunks of greenish-blue slate in a circle on the floor, following the modernist tenet ‘truth to materials’ all the way. Slate splits easily into smooth layers, and for this piece, it has been cut to preserve the natural form and presented with the smooth side facing up. While the outer ends form a regular circumference, the inward-facing tips are jagged – they create their own internal horizon line, craggy and rugged, pointing perhaps to their source, Delabole Quarry in Cornwall. Delabole was once the deepest man-made pit in the world, and with its violent tiers, is still the largest of its kind in England, and the oldest, dating back to the 15th century. By the 1990s the quarry was in steep decline, due to the emergence of cheaper building alternatives.

Even in response to a landscape so profoundly altered by man, Long’s guiding principle is harmony. In 1991 he described his work as ‘a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work.’ Removed from the landscape to the ‘white cube’ of the gallery space, Spring Circle has a certain autonomy of time and place – it has a predetermined diameter and can be installed anywhere according to the artist’s instructions.

Long grew up in Bristol, a couple of days on foot from Delabole, going rock-climbing, walking on the downs, exploring the River Avon and holidaying in Dartmoor, home to many ancient stone circles. As an art student at Saint Martin’s in London, he turned his back on the norm (devotion to welding under tutor Antony Caro, or Pop art, with its adulation of commerce) and beat his own path, with the simple methods of Arte Povera and the thrust of conceptual art as compass points. The idea of ‘balance’ is also something that separates him from his Land Art peers in America, such as Walter De Maria or Robert Smithson, who work in the landscape by making transformations on a massive scale. In a modest way, Long’s mark-making aligns modern, ecological concerns with England’s mysterious ancient monuments, such as the stone circles of Avebury or Stonehenge.

Text by Dorothy Feaver