Michael Craig-Martin

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Michael Craig-Martin
Oak tree.jpg
An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin
Born (1941-08-28) 28 August 1941 (age 72)[citation needed]
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Field painting, drawing, conceptual artist
Training Yale University
Movement Conceptualism
Works An Oak Tree
Website http://www.michaelcraigmartin.co.uk

Michael Craig-Martin, RA (born 1941) is a contemporary conceptual artist and painter. He is noted for his fostering of the Young British Artists, many of whom he taught, and for his conceptual artwork, An Oak Tree. He is Emeritus Professor of Fine Art at Goldsmiths.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

The Dublin-born and reared Craig-Martin was given a religious education, for eight years in a Roman Catholic school run by nuns, and later at the English Benedictine Priory School (now St. Anselm's Abbey School), where pupils were encouraged to look at religious imagery in illuminated glass panels and stained-glass windows.[2] He gained an interest in art through one of the priests, who was an artist, and was also strongly impressed by a display in the Phillips Collection of work by Mark Rothko.[2]

Craig-Martin studied in the Lycée Français in Bogotá, Colombia, where his father had employment for a while. Drawing classes in the Lycée by an artist, Antonio Roda, gave him a wider perspective on art.[2] His parents had no inclinations towards art, although they did have on display in their home Picasso's Greedy Child.[3][4] Back in Washington, he attended drawing classes given there by artists, then in 1959 attended Fordham University in New York for English Literature and History, while also starting to paint.[3]

In mid-1961[citation needed] Craig-Martin studied art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, and in the autumn began a painting course at Yale university, where the teaching was strongly influenced by the multi-disciplinary experimentation and minimalist theories on colour and form of Josef Albers, a former head of department. Craig-Martin later said, "Everything I know about colour comes from that course". Tutors on the course included artists, Alex Katz and Al Held.[3]

An Oak Tree[edit]

In 1973,[5] he exhibited the seminal piece An Oak Tree. The work consists of a glass of water standing on a shelf attached to the gallery wall next to which is a text using a semiotic argument to explain why it is in fact an oak tree. Nevertheless, on one occasion when it was barred by Australian Customs officials from entering the country as vegetation, he was forced to explain it was really a glass of water.[6] The work was bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 1977; however, the Tate gallery has an artist's copy.[6]

Young British Artists[edit]

In the 1980s, Craig-Martin was a tutor at Goldsmiths College, Department of Art, and was a significant influence on the emerging YBA generation, including Damien Hirst. He was also helpful in promoting the Freeze show to established art-world figures. Craig-Martin and his influence were described in an article in the Observer regarding the mentors of British art, entitled Schools of Thought.[7] Craig-Martin has been a trustee of the Tate Gallery and is a trustee of the National Art Collections Fund.

Retrospective shows[edit]

A mural by Craig-Martin

A retrospective of his work took place at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1989. In 2006, the Irish Museum of Modern Art presented "Michael Craig-Martin: Works 1964–2006" which included works from over 40 years of Craig-Martin's career. The exhibition showed around 50 paintings, sculptures, wall drawings, neon works and text pieces by the artist, covering everything from his sculptures to digital works. One of his works called On the Table (1970) involved four metal buckets suspended on a table, exemplifying the influence of Minimalism and Conceptualism on Craig-Martin. An Oak Tree (1973), consisting of "an ordinary glass of water on an equally plain shelf, accompanied by a text in which Craig-Martin asserts the supremacy of the artist's intention over the object itself ... is now widely regarded as a turning point in the development of conceptual art".[8]

Personal life[edit]

While at Yale University, Craig-Martin met Jan Hashey, whom he later married. The couple had a daughter. Craig-Martin and Hashey later divorced.[9]


  1. ^ Goldsmiths College staff list; retrieved 25 January 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Cork, Richard (2006). Michael Craig-Martin, p. 17, Thames & Hudson: London; ISBN 978-0-500-09332-0; ISBN 0-500-09332-6.
  3. ^ a b c Cork, Richard, p. 18.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Manchester, Eliza. "An Oak Tree 1973: Short text, Tate, December 2002; retrieved 8 November 2008.
  6. ^ a b Sherwin, Brian. "Art Space Talk: Michael Craig-Martin", myartspace.com, 16 August 2007; retrieved 31 October 2008.
  7. ^ Life: The Observer Magazine – A celebration of 500 years of British Art – 19 March 2000
  8. ^ Michael Craig-Martin at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, ARTINFO, 5 October 2006, retrieved 23 April 2008 
  9. ^ Connolly, Cressida (24 November 2007), Michael Craig-Martin: Out of the Ordinary, London: telegraph.co.uk, retrieved 14 January 2010 

External links[edit]