Friday, 31 August 2012

THE ART OF WALKING

or FROM HEPWORTH TO HONEY

This week I went to Wakefield by train on the Settle and Carlisle line, the most beautiful railway journey in England.  Most of my fellow passengers were walkers and I half-envied those who got off at neatly kept wayside stations to walk the Pennines in a rare burst of late August sunshine.

But my interest was in another walker, the artist Richard Long, whose work is on display at the stunning new Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, where I met up with a friend who had travelled from Lincoln to join me.  Long’s artistic manifesto is “to make a new way of walking: walking as art”.  His work is characterised by the use of natural materials – stone, wood, mud, grass – and conceptual simplicity (recurring shapes are circles, ovals, lines). 

Three works particularly caught my attention.  “Circle in Africa” (photograph of art work) was made on the slopes of Mulanje Mountain in Malawi.  It was a circle of dead branches fitted to the shape of the land.  The landscape itself looked denuded and drought-stricken, dotted with dead trees.  By contrast “A Circle in Alaska” (another photograph) was a circle of driftwood on the shores of the Bering Strait, the circle itself lying near the Arctic Circle.  But my favourite was yet another circle but this time in stone on the floor of the gallery: “Blaenau Ffestiniog Circle”.  It was made of pieces of slate - the purplish grey Welsh slate which roofed the 19th century industrial world.  I looked at the fractured textures, the sedimentary fissure lines and the wonderful shades of brown and golden iron pyrites where the rock had been broken.  The slates’ jagged shapes suggested the sharp glaciated outlines of the mountains of Snowdonia from which they had been cut.

Richard Long’s work reminded me of the poetry of Thomas A Clark.  Clark’s writing is formed by walking: his vocabulary of natural materials, his spare minimalist verses, and the way his lines are placed on large expanses of white page: The Path to the Sea and The Hundred Thousand Places.  Footprint and print.

The next day we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall just outside Wakefield.  After a morning of surreal Miro, the gigantism of Anish Kapoor and the monumental Hepworths and Moores we went for a walk round the lake for some aesthetic down-time.  Serendipity: Alec Finlay’s “Bee Library” quietly and unobtrusively nestling in the woods around the lake.  I’ve just finished reading Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Selections so I was delighted to discover his son’s work at Bretton.

The Bee Library is made from 24 bee books.  These include Virgil’s Georgics and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, as well as books on practical bee-keeping and on the decline of bees in the environment.  After reading each book the artist has turned it into a potential shelter for solitary bees.  The book is opened out so that the cover is the roof, then underneath are fixed bamboo sticks like those insect homes you see in free catalogues advertising things you never knew you needed. 

We walked round the lake spotting the little bee books and found 22 out of the 24 – the appeal of the diminutive.  But – has any bee actually taken up residence?

More information and pictures at

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