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michael craig-martin
michael craig-martin interview
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The father of Britart at Milton Keynes Gallery.

Subtlety is not part of Michael Craig-Martin’s artistic vocabulary. He is, after all, the ex-Goldsmiths tutor who taught the great crop of YBAs that dominated the art world for a decade. To celebrate the Milton Keynes Gallery’s fifth anniversary, the artist transformed the rather bland exterior of the space into a screaming pink behemoth emblazoned with a turquoise empty drawer. The building literally glows fuchsia with paint, 20x the pigmentation level of any normal exterior paint.

This metaphor of the gallery as an empty space waiting to be filled highlights one of the most obvious things about Craig-Martin’s work – its lack of emotion. There is something humanless about his paintings. People are depicted as objects floating in space. He’s fascinating with inanimate everyday objects - from mobile phones to an office chair or a simple glass. “In the contemporary world those things have become ordinary things,” Craig-Martin explains. “They are so ubiquitous, so ordinary that you can’t really describe the modern world without those objects.”

Michael Craig-Martin and Milton Keynes Gallery

The roughened, painted metal panels that make up the majority of the show don’t comment on the politics of consumerism, though. Rather, they explore with the freedom that art allows you to play with reality. Objects are blown up or shrunk and painted in heavily unnatural colours. There is no level of priority in this world of stuff. As he explains, “I like the idea of a democracy among the objects.”

Craig-Martin attacks iconic paintings by Piero della Francesca and Seurat in the same way. The paintings become flattened, cartoonish versions in psychedelic Day-Glo colours. “To draw Piero is the same thing to me as drawing a shoe,” he explains, and it looks it. It’s easy to love Craig-Martin’s painting for their lack of elitism, but there is something bleak and almost cheap about them that pisses you off.

Francesca Gavin 08 October 04
Michael Craig-Martin: Surfacing is at Milton Keynes Gallery until 21 November 04.

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