‘My talent as an artist is to walk across a moor or place a stone on the ground,’ artist Richard Long says. What could be more primitive, more humble than that?
So why has this reclusive artist, who operates on mountains, wild moors and in deserts, been rambling the immaculately kept grounds and rooms of Houghton Hall, the grand Palladian stately home built to house Sir Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister?
In some places he has been incredibly – you could say uncharacteristically – bold. On the croquet lawn raw, jagged slates rise out of the pristine turf in a wide criss-cross marked out as sharply and as neatly as the hedgerows. Smack bang centre of the main lawn in front of the house he has dug up an 84ft long line and filled it with rough local sandstone, the reddish raw material once used to build the nearby stable.
‘A Line in Norfolk’, 2016. Photography: Pete Huggins
Long is not an iconoclast, is not driven to rebelliously tear up history in the name of politics or ego. For the artist, the making of the work is the work, just as it was 50 years ago when he made his first sculpture (A Line Made By Walking, 1967), simply out of walking. Long has in fact been visiting and considering Houghton’s grounds for years, has walked and walked and thought; he has carried and measured, and laid out all the stone himself, a long, physically demanding task.
What you find at Houghton is what remains of that labour. He has immersed himself in Houghton, just as he would a mountain, humbling himself before its scale, grandeur and beauty, experiencing within it the smallness of a single human step or gesture and the primitive, time-old human urge to respond to that emotion. Thus, to the shining Stone Hall of marble busts and stucco, Long has carried local Norfolk flint and slate and made a stone circle, which appears as delicate and intricate as the chandelier that hangs above it.
The exhibition is very beautiful in rain or shine, with two galleries devoted to his historic, globe-spanning career. It’s well worth a trip to Houghton.