By Charlotte North, MA Curating Student
In Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, now showing at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th July, we have defined ‘print making’ as any physical act of pressure that leaves behind an indent or impression. For us, prints can be conceptualised in this way whether or not their production has involved a printing plate, ink or paper.
Two Richard Long works displayed in Impress illustrate the pressure and physicality involved in this expanded definition of printmaking: A Line Made by Walking (1967) and River Avon Mud Hand Spiral (1984).
A Line Made by Walking was created through the method that its title suggests. In a field in Wiltshire, Long walked repeatedly along a patch of grass until his action produced a visible impression in the landscape. Long then photographed his performative—and otherwise transient—gesture, making it permanent as an art object.
Long’s use of his own body in the natural environment to create a work that was both ephemeral and enduring was considered to be radical at the time. In fact, A Line Made by Walking is still considered to mark a seminal moment in art history, particularly because of the important role it played in the development of British Land Art.
To create River Avon Mud Hand Spiral, Long collected mud from the River Avon near his hometown in Bristol. He then dipped his hand in the natural material and impressed it repeatedly to a sheet of paper in the form of an immense spiral.
When viewed in the gallery, River Avon Mud Hand Spiral expresses a powerful sense of dynamism and energy; the force in Long’s movements can be seen in the splatter effect that surrounds his handprints. The repeated action also suggests a ritualistic routine and a sense of determination or even urgency.
Despite being visually divergent, these works by Long reveal several key similarities: they were both produced through a physical engagement with the landscape; they make use of simple, geometric forms; and they are both impressions that have been brought about by the weight and movement of the artist’s body.
It is this latter aspect of the works that made them integral to our thinking when planning this exhibition. Long’s works are not considered to be prints in the conventional, media-defining sense of the term, but they are the results of very direct and physical acts of impression. They can therefore be understood as compelling examples of expanded print making in contemporary art.
Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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