Land Art research

Robert Smithson

I had a brief look at Robert Smithson’s work after being recommended to look at him by my tutor. On my first trawl through the internet, I found some interesting land art, but nothing which moved me. Pieces like “spiral jetty” and “broken circle” are seriously impressive feats of engineering, but it is hard to get a proper impression of them from a small photograph on the screen.

I have a couple of books on the work of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, so I decided to investigate their work instead.

Richard Long

My sister bought me “Richard Long: Heaven and Earth” back in 2009 and, apart from a skim through, I hadn’t really engaged with it before now. From reading the introduction, I could tell that this was an artist I could connect to, as he shared the same interests as me – walking and “playing” in the landscape.

His early work “A Line Made by Walking 1967” is a striking image and an idea he continued to use through his career. Overall, it seems to me that he likes to play, with work such as “From Uncertainty to Certainty 1998” where he walked in the manner described by a word on a pebble randomly picked out of a bag. I like that!

That got me thinking – where is the boundary between “playing” in the landscape and art? Is there one?

I used to play more in the landscape, but haven’t of late.

IMG_0013 IMG_0026

My focus with photography up until now has been on “pure” landscapes, with “playing” done for playing’s sake, not to record. In an interesting coincidence, on my honeymoon in Harris seven years ago I took this image of a standing stone:


There were shells around the base of the stone which I cleaned up before taking the image. After taking it, my wife and I arranged them in a pattern. Along came another photographer (who happens to live close to us) who took the image of the stone with the shells we had arranged at its base:

Image by Tristan Campbell

Result = 2 very different images!

Reading more about Richard Long, it is interesting to note in one of his artist statements that he considers his art to be the essence of his experience. In that case, what makes his experience of a walk any different to mine or anyone else’s? Only that he calls himself an artist?

Andy Goldsworthy

Looking through the book “Wall: Andy Goldsworthy”, I was struck by the similarities between his work and Richard Long’s in the way he works with natural materials and his connection with the landscape, but also by the differences in presentation of the work. Richard Long’s photographs are more records of the art work than works of art in themselves. Andy Goldsworthy’s photographs are more considered and works of art in themselves.

In the way that research takes you, off on tangents, I went looking for an image of the fleece Jan Hicks made on the side of Wild Boar Fell (I included her in my photography book ‘Working the View’). I failed to find an image of the final piece, only work in progress images, but it led me to Steve Messam with whom she did this work with.

Steve Messam

He has some very interesting blogs on his work and the work of others. I will definitely explore his work further. Interestingly, in one of his blogs, “Behold“, he describes how he sets out to make work that is beautiful, echoing my thoughts on art, but written much more eloquently.

And in the way of web searching, some other land artists I came across who deserve further investigation:

I noticed that there is an exhibition of Land Art at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, so I hope to get to this and experience some of these works in the flesh.

I’m not sure if any of this research has given me any ideas for printmaking yet, but it has given me much food for thought, and a lot more to research. I can see a lot of potential in the land art movement and since my ‘Working the View’ project, I have been looking for a new direction in which to take my photography. This could be it!

This research blog is a bit sketchy, but will be something I will definitely return to.


Robert Smithson website:


Steve Messam:

Kate Raggett:

Everton Wright:

Yorkshire Sculpture Park:

Richard Long: Heaven and Earth. Clarrie Wallis. Tate Publishing, 2009

Wall. Andy Goldsworthy and Jerry L. Thompson. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2000

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