Thursday, 3 May 2007

Week Ten: Hamish Fulton

An exploration of Hamish Fulton's Scottish works.

Click here to see Fulton's official website.

Discuss Hamish Fulton’s Scottish subjects

Jack Davis

The work of Hamish Fulton during his career has consisted of many walks over many countries and continents. He has covered over 12,000 miles during his walking life following all kinds of scenery and produced many works that he has gained from the experience[1]. The artist has an unprecedented appreciation for nature and has dedicated his life to walking. Hamish Futon first came to prominence in the 1970’s with a series of shows and influential group exhibitions such as Information at the Museum of Modern Art[2]. The artist feels passionately about the condition of the planet and makes a conscious attempt to create a response to the current environmental situation. In an indirect manner Fulton encourages his viewer to consider their own position and relationship within nature. The artist lays great emphasis on the affects walking has on the individual and the responses that occur, as the artist himself states;

“It is about an attempt at being ‘broken down’ mentally and physically – with the desire to ‘flow’ inside a rhythm of walking – to experience a temporary state of euphoria, a blending of my mind with the outside world of nature”[3].

The works that he has produced over his career has changed in style however the principles that he attempts to manifest have remained. It is important to try and analyse the work of Hamish Fulton in relation to other ‘Walking artists’ and understand the origins and influences on his work. Fulton’s Scottish subjects give a clear example of the artists work as the Cairngorms, his favoured Scottish area, have optimised his work and the beliefs that he puts across.

The artistic education of Hamish Fulton was conventional as he was to attend the highest quality schools. Firstly he studied at the Hammersmith School of art between 1964-5, then at St Martin’s School of Art between 1966-8 and finally at the Royal College of Art from 1968-9. These years were to be where his artistic inspiration was to be formed and shape the direction of his work. It was during these years that Fulton began to understand new methods of art, particularly sculpture, and the relationship it had with landscape. The artist began to believe that the best quality within art could be ‘how you view life’ rather than a produced object. These beliefs were taken further as he travelled, where he was able to experience different forms of landscape and the culture that lay within them. In 1968 and then again in 1969 Fulton travelled to America, and it was during these journeys that he began to realise his vision for his art work. The artist had had a long held interest in the lives of the plains Indians and the ways in which Native American life embodied a spiritual and symbolic relationship with nature, and stressed the importance of first-hand experience[4]. From here the artist realised the importance of the walk as the primary source as he himself states – “No Walk No Work[5]. For much of the artist’s life he has become increasingly frustrated by the attitude of the West as it has taken nature for granted and this can be easily seen within the artists work[6]. Fulton takes inspiration from the nature he sees during his walks and manifests them into an exhibition piece, as Lucy R. Lippard sates “the idea is paramount and the material form is secondary, lightweight, ephemeral, cheap, unpretentious and/or ‘dematerialized’”[7]. The walks are always different however Fulton is always comparing his walks, as it is the walk that is the crucial factor not the final piece. As his career has go on Fulton has become increasingly concerned with the effects of the walk on both the mental and physical experiences. He has focused on attempting to truly challenge himself and note the experience and emotions that he receives, as his work “No talking for Seven days”. This concern for the mental and physical state is shown in the wide-ranging walks that he has up taken through many different terrains and distances. He follows these walks documenting his thoughts and objects he sees and then manifests then into his finished work. The artist attempts to leave no trace of his journey on the landscape, a belief that totally contrasts with the work of Land artists such as Robert Smithson and Richard Long. However during his walks Fulton pays much attention to the textures that surround him touching objects as he sees them, for instance “Touching Boulders by Hand” in Portugal 1994[8]. The walk becomes a spiritual experience that the artist is subjected to and interprets his own individual response. The artists’ work gives only a snap shot of this experience for the viewer, as the walk is the primary source of the work, rather than the finished exhibition piece, contrasting to the work of Smithson and De Maria, who’s work “Spiral Jetty” and “The Lightening Field”. Instead of altering the terrain that he crosses, Fulton merely takes a few photographs and writes down a few key words and phrases in his diary. Fulton rejects the suggestion that he is a photographer and uses photos sparingly to incorporate into his work. By only choosing a very select number of images Fulton is able to demonstrate very specific moments of his walk that he conveys to his viewers.

Hamish Fulton has found much inspiration in the land of Scotland and this has been a focal point for many of his walks and exhibitions. This fondness may have much to do with the relative wilderness qualities that the northern areas of Scotland possess, that have similarities to the great open plains of Canada and the United States of America. The main area of interest for Fulton is the area known as the Cairngorms, situated in the central highlands of Scotland that lie between the Dee and the Spey. The area is of great beauty with wide-ranging wildlife and geographical features such as wild land, moorlands, forests, rivers, lochs and glens[9]. The Cairngorms possess some of the most mountainous scenes in the British Isles as it has the second highest summit in the British Isles, Ben Macdhui at 4296 ft[10]. Despite not having the highest peak the Cairngorms, named after one peak of the same name, it is the only British mountain range to have four hills lying close together and each reaching over 4,000ft[11]. The Cairngorms have been a popular area for walkers, climbers, and hunters and since the 1930’s skiers. The area has now become the newest national park in Britain, declared in 2003[12], to protect its beauty and maintain the high quality conditions of the land. The area is if of fascination to many as the Cairngorms possesses the largest artic wilderness in the British Isles with wide ranging forms of flora and fauna covering an area 3800 sq kilometres[13]. However due to the beauty of the area it has encountered problems over the years. As popularity grows this means that greater and greater numbers of people are visiting the area therefore potentially damaging the area, as an estimated 500,000 people visited the park last year. Tourism has been a growing factor in the Cairngorms as it has been suggested that 80% of the parks income comes from tourism[14]. There has been many issues involving skiing, as there has been much objection to the increased number of chair lifts that have been installed damaging the wildlife and its surroundings. The high peaks and often-cold weather has encouraged many skiers to come to the Cairngorms and this has led to environmental issues within the park and its surroundings.

This destruction of such a beautiful area seems to have been noticed by Fulton as his works from the area clearly indicate his intent to make his views reconsider their stance on nature. Despite not claiming to be an environmentalist himself[15], Fulton has clearly shown deep concern for the treatment of the Landscape and the ever-growing effects of urban life. The Cairngorms enable walkers to visit a wide-ranging landscape from flatter plains to challenging rock climbs that appeal to all forms of outdoor enthusiasts.

The Cairngorms have been an area that Fulton has enjoyed and appreciated through his career and dedicated much time to walking within it. From these walks that he has done, Fulton has created several works of art to share his experiences. It is important to understand that the walk is the art; therefore Fulton is the only one, who can feel the emotions and memories of the selected walk. He has produced different works of his experiences in Scotland from photographic representation, to photographs with accompanying text and just text works. His image “Life of a River Rock” is an example of a selected photograph that attempts to convey the artist’s feelings during the walk;

My art is about specific places and particular events that are not present in the gallery. The given information is minimal. My hope is that the viewer will create a feeling, an impression in his or her own mind based on whatever my art can provide.”

This black and white image shows the beauty and serenity of the Cairngorms, depicting only his feelings at that specific point. This image shows a continuation of the English Landscape tradition, primarily the Romantic tradition, within his work however it seems clear there are other influences involved. This work clearly has aspects of the romantic tradition, embracing the landscape and its surroundings, but also shows Fulton’s new desire to emphasise walking as an art itself with a powerful statement concerning the world’s environmental issues. Fulton further explores his idea of the walk being the art itself and produced a piece named “Geese Flying South” from the Cairngorms in September 1990. This work is a produced totally in text to explain his views and feelings during his seven day wandering walk in the Cairngorms. The image describes, through carefully selected words, what occurred during his walk with great emphasis on the impact of wildlife. The text explains the process of his walk, the ever growing importance of counting during his walks, with the viewer reading down the list of words; as if flying south. Fulton’s choice of words, all adjectives, are vital in attempting to describe his walk and the specific items that he felt important to convey. This work, despite getting more abstract as his work has progressed, shows his early influences that have affected his work. The use of words in his image can be seen as an appreciation of the Japanese Haiku poets[16], as an opportunity to convey the body’s emotions through different outlets. As previously mentioned the concept of counting and measuring time have played an increasingly important role within the artist walking art. This can be understood from his time in America where the native Indian used such methods as navigation systems over their landscape.

Throughout his career as an artist Hamish Fulton has been labelled many different things, such as a sculptor, photographer, as landscape art and as poet. Despite this the artist has stated clearly that he is a ‘Walking Artist’ saying, - “My art form is the short journey – made by walking in the Landscape[17]. It is clear when looking at Fulton’s work, especially his work from the Cairngorms, that his work contrasts to many that surround him, although the primary influences may be similar. The fact that Fulton chooses to leave nature untouched clearly removes himself from the label ‘Land Artist’ such as Smithson. His work appears to follow the thoughts of an environmentalist, with great concern for the environment, an issue that is often heavily related to the issues of skiing in the Cairngorms. Fulton’s work does however appear to be heavily indebted to the romantic traditions, despite the artist never supporting this claim. His works, and personal thoughts, are focused on the importance and beauty of nature and a quintessentially English feel, a theme that Gilpin dedicated his life to. This support and care for his surroundings appears to be mirrored in the work of Constable and Turner during the romantic period. It becomes crucial at this point to focus on the walk and the role it has on the artist himself and then the final art work, as Andrew Wilson states; “It is only by focusing on Fulton’s primary work – the walks – as marked by his artworks, that its conceptual power, richness and fragility can be recognised[18]. It seems that Fulton is creating an almost absolute rejection of produced objects and changing the mind set of the viewer to appreciating nature first and art second

The many walks Hamish Fulton has completed suggest his passion and dedication to the subject of ‘Walking Art’. The artist has dedicated his life to his walking and from this created many exhibitions stating his emotions. The work, though ranging in forms, all comply with the artist’s beliefs and artistic expression as he says;

“Nature is the source of my art and the art is a form of passive protest against the dominance of urban life. I’m curious about the wilderness not the metropolis.[19]"

Fulton has produced his own very distinctive works that place him within the bracket of a ‘Walking Artist’. Despite his clear difference from his contemporaries Fulton has created a method of artistic expression through the medium of walking. It is important to appreciated Fulton’s firm belief of leaving no trace within nature, where only touching objects is permitted. It is this trait that I believe Fulton has a much closer bond with the environmentalist that he would admit. Fulton clearly has a close connection to the English romantic tradition, with his emphasis on embracing the landscape and depicting the emotions it can create within the individual. It does appear that Fulton often contradicts himself while explaining his work and thoughts. It appears that Fulton desires to be a revolutionary and unique artist despite having many links with other art movements and theories. The fact that Fulton flies across the globe to perform these walks and exhibitions does appear to be slightly ironic considering the known impact of the aviation industry on the environment. Despite these minor flaws in the artist’s perception of himself he is always contemplating new methods of expressing the power and emotion of a walk, as the artist himself has suggested film may be the next step to share his experiences.

Alexander, H. – The Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide – The Cairngormspublished by The Scottish Mountaineering Club Synod Hall, Edinburgh, 1950
Baker, A. – Geography and History: Bridging the Divide, Cambridge University Press, 2003
Bevan, R. – Hamish Fulton. Mexico City in the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 132, No.1047. (Jun 1990), pp. 440-441
Nature Conservancy Council. – Ethics for Environmentalists, 2007
Gordon, S, - The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland, published by Cassell and Company LTD, London, 1925
Haldane, J. – Barry Flanagan and Hamish Fulton, London and New York in the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 140, No. 1149. (Dec 1998), pp. 839-840
Tufnell, B. – Land Art – Tate Publishing, London, 2006
Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey – Tate Publishing,
London, 2002

Internet Resources

[1] Walks made in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy,

Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Lapland, Iceland, Germany, The Netherlands,

Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Nepal, Bolivia, India, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Tibet.

[2] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 16

[3] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 27

[4] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 74 - 75

[5] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 75

[6] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 23

[7] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 23

[8] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 77


[10] Alexander, H. – The Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide, The Cairngorms, p. 2

[11] Gordon, S. – The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland, p.2




[15] Nature Conservancy Council. – Ethics for Environmentalists, pp. 9-10


[17] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 21

[18] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 22

[19] - quote taken from View, Oakland, CA 1981

1 comment:

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