Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Richard Long. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Long. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


My Richard Long post brought up a couple of things.  First, Steve Duffy reminds me (and I probably shouldn’t have needed reminding) of Bill Drummond’s Iceland/Richard Long adventures.  If the story is to be believed, and with Bill Drummond it may not be, in 1970 he and his sister tried, but failed, to walk the length of Iceland, North to South.  I’m not sure exactly what route they intended to take, but whichever way they went would have been 550 plus kilometers, and he was only 17 years old at the time, so failure was perhaps to be expected.

In 1970, Richard Long would have been 25 years old and had already done a certain amount of walking and art making – A Line Made By Walking is from 1967, but he wasn’t a household word, even the artiest of households.  A Line Made By Walking looks like this:

 In 1994 Long successfully walked the length of Iceland, taking the same route that Drummond had attempted: Drummond is the source of that bit of information, and I assume Long had never heard of Drummond or his failed walking expedition.

During that Icelandic walk, and afterwards, Long created works inspired by the trip, including a photography and text piece called A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind.  It looks (or I suppose looked – since we have to use the past tense) like this:

In 1995 Drummond bought the work for $20,000 (the price was in dollars since that’s the international art currency), but three 3 years later he’d gone off it, so he tried to sell it for what he’d paid – and couldn’t find a buyer.   Well, there is such a thing as a gallery mark-up.

Ever the provocateur, in 2001 when he published and publicized his book How To Be An Artist, Drummond tried to sell the work again, this time by cutting it up into 20,000 separate numbered segments (each one approximately 10mm x 4mm) and selling them for $1 each.  You can still buy them for that price at Drummond live events, or you can buy them online, via a third party, for five quid a time, the extra money covering “administration and registration.”

Once the last segment’s been sold, Drummond will supposedly take the $20,000, attempt the walk again and (assuming he succeeds, at least in part) he’ll bury the money in the center of the stone circle depicted in the Richard Long photograph, again assuming it’s still there.

I’m not sure this Bill Drummond project constitutes great art but it does sound like fun, a bit of a lark, and larkishness is in pretty short supply in the art world.  Long is apparently deeply unamused by Drummond slicing up his work. 

I wonder how Long feels about Carey Young who is reworking or reinterpreting (or something) his art in what strike me as some fairly uninteresting ways One piece is titled Body Techniques (after A Line in Ireland, Richard Long, 1974), from 2007.  It looks like this:

Richard Long’s A Line in Ireland looks like this:

Would you like to hear what it says on Young’s website about her piece?  Well of course you would.  Body Techniques (2007) is a series of eight photographs that considers the interrelationships between art and globalized commerce. The title of the series refers to a phrase originally coined by Marcel Mauss and developed by Pierre Bourdieu as habitus, which describes how an operational context or behavior can be affected by institutions or ideologies.”
It’s a striking photograph - she’s in the United Arab Emirates apparently – and I always approve of wearing a suit in the desert, and it’s not hard to “get” the work - Long’s Irish rocks are “natural” while the path Young’s navigating consists of “manmade” discarded concrete.  But you know, where’s the walking?

There’s also Young’s Lines Made by Walking, a 2003, a looped slide projection sequence.  Some of it looks like this:

Again her website describes it in ways I couldn’t possibly manage.  “The viewer sees Carey Young, dressed in a suit, walking backwards and forwards in a crowd of commuters. … This action is repeated this (sic) until we realize that her repeated walking appears, in fact, to be ‘inscribing’ a line in the crowd. The artist appears to be restaging works by the Situationists as much as Richard Long, particularly his ‘A Line Made by Walking’ much as her activity can also be read as that of a the clockwork toy or caged animal pacing in captivity. She appears as if displaced, or within a different temporal continuum: the artist appears to be repeating the workers’ daily journey but at a faster speed. Her struggles to create a space within the crowd could be seen as a deadpan parallel for artistic ‘struggle’. The artwork appears balanced between two states, as confined as the daily monotony of the commuters’ journey and as some kind of free act hidden within monotony, but equally within its own modes of institutionalization.”

Deadpan indeed.  God it must be awful to be a contemporary visual artist.  Part of the gig involves describing, or having other people describe, what you do in language so inert, so exhausted, so pretentious and hollow, that it’s rendered meaningless.  It seems to me that a robust sense of humor, a sense of the absurd, a lack of pomposity, is quite handy when you’re making art.  Bill Drummond has those qualities in spades.  Those same qualities also come in no less when you’re walking, if you ask me. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Richard Long - walker, artist, sometime walking artists, sometime land artist, sometime sculptor.

Some of his best work – and his best walks - involve “interventions” in the landscapes.  Sometimes these might involve stamping out an “intaglio” on the ground, or he might move rocks into patterns.  

Very early in his career he went up Kilimanjaro, and made a kind of sculpture there.  “I was very proud of the fact I had probably made the highest sculpture in the world, ” he said in a recent interview with the Guardian.

If I’m walking in the desert or some isolated place I often see that somebody has rearranged rocks, and I always say to myself “Maybe Richard Long was here,” but I never really think he was.  And occasionally I myself have been known to rearrange rocks – in which case it’s definitely not a Richard Long, but I suppose it might be “School of Long.”

Long’s work also sometimes involves transporting pieces of rock or slate from natural settings or quarries, and then arranging them in art galleries or in outdoor sculpture parks.  An exhibition of these kind of sculptures titled Land and Sky: Richard Long at Houghton just opened at Houghton Hall, near Fakenham, in Norfolk, England.

Part of the coverage included that article in the Guardian which quotes Long as saying that he’s walked every piece of Dartmoor, but avoids pilgrim routes and old ways. “I made a conscious decision that there’s so many ways to walk in new ways or original ways. I was quite proud of the fact that no one has walked across Dartmoor in a straight line before.”  He’s referring to works like these:

I have definitely walked on Dartmoor – a long time ago, not sure I’d even heard of Richard Long at the time.  I definitely didn’t walk in a straight line and if I walked on pilgrim routes I certainly didn’t know about it.

Long says, “Ideas can last forever …  I’m one of the artists who realized a journey – from a straight path in the grass to a 1,000-mile walk – could be a work of art.”

Of course It’s in the nature of art that it changes the way you see the world, so when you’ve got Richard Long in your head and you find yourself, as I did the other day, walking in Los Angeles along Wilshire Boulevard, past a building that houses a Wells Fargo Bank and a slightly distant outpost of Cedars Sinai hospital, I was amazed to find this sea of rough but carefully arranged slabs of red rock. 

I’m as sure as I can be that these are not “real” Richard Longs, but who’s to say that the landscape architect wasn’t familiar with his works?  Maybe he or she too belonged to the School of Long.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


I was in the city by the bay and I went to the newly refurbished San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  The thing I really wanted to see was the exhibition by Sohei Nishino titled New Work.  It consisted chiefly of what Nishino calls “Diorama Maps,” a kind of photo collage. 

Image - Michael Hoppen Gallery

The method, as I understood it, is that he chooses, or gets a commission to photograph, a city.  He goes there, explores, and takes thousands of pictures.  Much of this exploration is done by walking the streets and most of the photographs are taken at ground level, though some are obviously taken from much higher viewpoints.

Nishino prints off contact sheets, cuts out single frames, and assembles them into large-scale collages that looks somewhat like a map, somewhat like an aerial view of the city.  These collages are then rephotographed and printed large scale, and this print is the final product.

I didn’t absolutely understand all that before I went, and I found myself just a little disappointed by the size of the works on display in the exhibition.  Having seem images like the one below, I’d imagined they might be as big as a gallery wall.

Still, it would be churlish to complain that the prints weren’t big enough, so I’m not going to do that.  Like real maps, these works by Nishino allow a dual perspective – you see them from a distance and they give an overall sense of the city but then you need to look closer at all the details.

Image - Michael Hoppen Gallery

Nishino has been making the diorama maps for the best part of fifteen years but lately he’s started a series he calls Day Drawings.  He tracks his own movements via GPS, brings them up on the computer screen, places a piece of paper over the screen and punches holes in the paper tracking his route.  This then becomes a kind of negative.  He shines light through the holes onto a sheet of photographic paper, thereby again forming a sort of map. 

Photograph - Ivan Vartanian

Nishino cites the great artist, walker and mapper Richard Long as an influence (well, how could he not?) and a work by Long titled “Autumn Circle,” 1990, was situated in the museum conveniently close to the Nishina exhibition. Thus:

You may already know that I once had a job guarding a stone circle by Richard Long in the Tate Gallery in London (I was a security guard – long, not very interesting story) and I spent hours on end walking around it.  This was not long after there’d been some controversy about the Tate acquiring Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII” otherwise known as the bricks.

People would come up to me as I was pacing around the Long piece and say, “Is this the bricks?” and I’d take great delight in saying, “No it’s the stones.”  How we laughed.

Meanwhile elsewhere in San Francisco, at the Paul Smith store on Geary Street, the window-dressers (do we still call them window-dressers?) were showing a certain disrespect for the printed map – I mean, really.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I can’t remember exactly when I worked it out, but it seems that when I first arrived in Los Angeles I lived within walking distance of both Steve Vai and Robert Cray, a couple of wildly different, but indisputably mighty guitarists, admittedly ones I respect rather than love, but I did write about both them in a not quite forgotten book titled Big Noises.

 In any case, such is the nature of these things, I only realized they both lived in the area as they were moving out.  Keeping an eye on the property market is a major preoccupation in LA, even for people like me who have no intention of buying or selling a house, and of course there’s always the added value of a celebrity connection.  I only located the Vai and Cray houses because they were touted as desirable properties when they came up for sale.

Cray, it turned out, had been living in an “Enchanting one story European, private and custom home on huge lot w/almost 1 acre flat with pool. An island unto itself. 3 Bds. 21/2 Baths.L.R. has beamed ceilings. & Ariz. Flagstone F.P., Wood flrs.D.R. has adjct. patio bringing in the outdoors. Kitch. has Viking Range & Sub-Zero in pantry. Sep. office/gst.hse + office/studio. Master has secret garden w/spa. Rear patio has F.P. & B.B.Q. Huge driveway w/rm. for 8 cars. Wine cellar-Pool-Zinfandel Vines ready for harvest! Views of Griffith Observ.”  Blimey.  Who knew the blues was so profitable? Though to be fair he’d bought the house in 1997 for just $800,000.  A nice return.

Vai’s digs were “modest” by comparison, on sale for “just” a couple of million, featuring “open floor plan, views of Beachwood Canyon, four and a half baths, a den, and a patio, according to listing information. The house’s size is up for debate; public records say it measures 3,316 square feet, while listing information proclaims that it has 4,716 square feet.”  It also had a “top-of-the-line sound studio with a control room, a live room, and a mic room,” but then it would, wouldn't it?

Are Messrs. Vai and Cray great walkers?  Well, I’m guessing no, not really.  There’s an interview with Vai in which he says, “I am sort of a walking dichotomy.”  But that hardly counts. And at the end of his song “For the Love of God” there’s a voice over by David Coverdale, in which he intones, "Walking the fine line... between Pagan... and Christian.”  Vai allegedly recorded that piece on day 4 of a 10 day fast.  "I do try to push myself into relatively altered states of consciousness. Because in those states you can come up with things that are unique even for yourself.”  But why day 4 rather day 9 or 10, I have no idea.

         Cray performs a couple of walking-related songs. “I’m Walking” and “Walk Around Time” the latter of which includes the lyric
“Love can be easy
But the trust is hard to find
And all I need is some walk around time.”

Did Steve ever sling his Ibanez over his shoulder and stroll across to Robert’s place for a jam, or vice versa?   They surely could have, but I’m guessing they didn’t.  So I decided to make the journey on their behalf, to drift from the former Vai to the former Cray property. However, since this is really a pathetically short distance I decided to do a long detour that took me up to in Bronson Canyon and the “Batcave” as seen in the 1960s TV series, an old haunt for me.  I kept hoping that I’d find evidence that Vai or Cray were great Batman fans or had at least jammed together on the Batman theme.  Apparently not.

That’s Vai place above as it is now, and it presents a fairly blank and private face to the world.  On the other hand it is closely hemmed in on all side by other houses, and however good the studio’s soundproofing you have to imagine than when Stevie spanked his plank, the neighbors would have known all about it.  Still, at least you could have knocked on his front door and asked him to turn it down.

When Robert Cray (that’s his gaff above) turned it up to eleven, or even eight, you’d have had to scale a couple of fences and an earthwork before you could confront the man and try to do any “strong persuading.”

And I realized as well, that I’d walked past both these houses before, and I’d certainly not imagined that any great guitar heroics were going on inside, but that I suppose is just what you’d want if you were a guitar hero.

And so to the Batcave.  The weather report I’d read said the day was going to be comparatively cool but as I schlepped along the road into the canyon, and then along the dirt track that led to the “cave,” uphill all the way, it felt pretty darned hot.  Whenever I’d been there before, there had always been a few people around, often it seemed shooting some kind of amateur video using the Batcave as setting, but today there was absolutely nobody.  Maybe they’d all read a more accurate weather report.

But there was evidence of human presence.  Somebody, perhaps several people, with an arty bent, and at least a nodding acquaintance with the works of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy (that's their work above) but with less lofty ambitions, had created some site-specific interventions, using the natural materials at hand.  First there was a stone circle:

And just as interesting, inside the cave, or tunnel, or whatever you want to call it, there were tiny constructions, involving piles of stones, miniature cairns,  and in one place a self-supporting arch, no bigger than your hand.  Anonymous art by unseen creators.  Clearly none of it was ancient or primitive, but it did seem somehow magical, evidence of “relatively altered states of consciousness” and also just a little unsettling.

Anyway, in due course the spell was broken.  Along came a hiker in a Batman tee shirt.  “Ah, you too have come to Mecca,” he said, and I didn’t argue with him.