Michael Craig-Martin Facts

Michael Craig-Martin is a conceptual artist and painter, and he is best known for his vibrant paintings of everyday objects in bright candy colours. He has also produced sculptures.

As a Professor of Fine Art at Goldsmiths, London, he influenced many of the artists that formed the Young British Artists group, including Damien Hirst.

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Facts About Michael Craig-Martin

  • Michael Craig-Martin was born in Dublin but he grew up in Washington D.C. in the US.
  • He attended a Roman Catholic school, and his love of art was kindled by one of the priests who was an artist.
  • As a youngster, he was impressed by the work of Mark Rothko.
  • After studying English Literature and History at Fordham University in New York, in 1961 Michael Craig-Martin studied art in the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, and then he took a painting course at Yale University in Connecticut.
  • At Yale, he was influenced by Josef Alber’s minimalist approach to colour and form.
  • Michael Craig-Martin moved to London in 1966.
  • His first solo exhibition was at London’s Rowan Gallery in 1969.
  • In 1973, he created a conceptual piece of work called An Oak Tree. It consisted of a shelf a gallery wall containing a glass of water. A panel of text next to the shelf explains why the glass of water is in fact an oak tree.
  • In the late 1970s, he started to produce line drawings of ordinary household objects.
  • He became an art tutor at Goldsmith’s College in London, and taught many of the Young British Artist generation, and some of his former students include Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, and Srah Lucas.
  • In the 1990s, Michael Craig-Martin’s focus turned to painting. He produced paintings with bold outlines and flat, vibrant colours.
  • During his career, his work has appeared in dozens of exhibitions and installations in cities all over the world, including Paris, Stuttgart, Hannover, Valencia, New York, Dublin, London, and Sao Paulo.
  • In 2016 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to art, giving him the title Sir Michael Craig-Martin.
  • Some of his most recent work, Bulb (red), for example has been in the form of painted steel sculptures of the outlines of everyday objects. Essentially, 3D drawings out of metal.
  • In 2019, he wrote a book called On Being an Artist

What is Michael Craig-Martin’s most famous work?

1973s An Oak Tree is probably Michael Craig-Martin’s most well known individual work. As detailed above, it consists of a glass of water on a shelf in a gallery with a panel of text explaining why the glass of water is actually an oak tree.

The piece focuses the audience’s attention to how much a work of art is defined by what the artist declares it to be. He ‘deconstructed the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element’, namely this belief’ (of the artist in his or her own work, and the viewers belief in the artist).

He is also known for his flat, bold and brightly-coloured minimalist paintings of everyday objects.

You can see in my paintings, I’ve taken away the context, I’ve taken away the shadows, I’ve taken away expression, I’ve taken away the personal, and yet so much remains!

Michael Craig-Martin

His most recent paintings have incorporated subjects that reflect contemporary life – credit cards, mobile phones, takeaway coffee cups, designer trainers and sunglasses.

I decided I should use the most obvious colours – the basic colours with simple names: red, purple, yellow, pink. I don’t distort the objects, I don’t change the objects, I draw them exactly as they are. I do the opposite with the colours.

Michael Craig-Martin

I discovered that I could unsettle the familiarity of the drawing of an object by introducing non-naturalistic, wayward, intense colour. The drawing is logical, general, bland, familiar; the colour instinctive, specific, vivid, unexpected. This confrontation gave my work a new visual impact and emotional intensity.

Michael Craig-Martin