About Time You Met: Michael Craig-MartinBy Suzi Malin
Catch the last two weeks of Michael Craig Martin’s exhibition at the Serpentine. It is his first exhibition in London since 1989 and brings together work from 1981 and 2015. Drawings, paintings and sculptures represent the shift to digital technologies. It is celebration of colour and line encapsulating the exciting digital age in which we live.
Michael Craig Martin is waiting for me at the entrance to his studio. Genial, charming and with the warmth of the Irish although he most definitely considers himself a Londoner.
I step into a white, bright room lined with hundreds of books behind a giant desk, with a desk lamp (the sort he paints) and I feel as though I have entered one of his paintings. We sit down in the perfect setting for a perfect interview.
What do you want out of life?
I’ve almost got everything I want out of life. It has come closer than I ever expected or imagined. I have the opportunities that I didn’t have when I was younger – I see myself as fortunate.When I was 13/14 I got the idea that the most wonderful thing in life was to be an artist. I’ve lived the life of an artist so I consider myself very, very fortunate.
That’s so lucky to know what you want and you’ve achieve it.
I think my new work is the best. The greater degree of success, the greater the range of opportunities that becomes open to you. I’m comfortable in my own skin and know what I’m good at.
What was your highest high creatively speaking?
I knew when I did The Oak Tree that I had done something special. I didn’t know that it would have a life of its own nonetheless I knew I’d done something exceptional.
Are you a different person when creating your conceptual work, to when you are working on paintings concerning colour and technical perfection?
I don’t see them as different. I see the early and late work as being part of the same thing. They all share the same aesthetic values.
Can you identify the happiest moment in your life?
I’m happy right now. I enjoy reading but the pleasure of being able to live entirely off the work I do and live as an artist is a wonderful feeling.
What do you think of the art scene today ?
I think the 90’s were a very exciting period and dont find what is happening right now quite as exciting.
Having earned the sobriquet of the godfather of the YBA with students like Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, can you tell me the most important piece of advice you could give any student?
Persist and persist. Young people have window of opportunity that lasts for 10-15 years after art school beyond the age range of 40-65/70 it’s very difficult. It’s one of those things. If you are 40 you are supposed to have a track record but when you are 25 you are not.When you’re an artist, you take the good and bad of your own history with you.
Is that why when you curated the Royal Academy summer show this year that you invited older artists to exhibit?
Yes, they’re some marvellous artists who have been overlooked and need to be recognised. After the age of 65/70 then there is a window of opportunity for them to gain recognition towards the autumn of their lives.
Photo Credits: Jerry Hardman-Jones
What do you think of being an artist in England today?
I would say that Britain is a tough place to be an artist. Artists don’t command respect like they do in Europe . The French automatically admire intellectuals. The English are sceptical. It’s ok if you are very successful but there are many artists around my age who have devoted their lives, but have received little acknowledgement or respect for their achievements.That is very painful. If they had lived in a different country it would have been better for them.
What was the most enlightening thing you ever learned from a teacher?
When I was 19 I was a student at YMHA and I went to lecture by T.S.Elliot in New York. An earnest lady in the audience asked him (after Elliot’s reading of the Lovesong of J.A .Prufrock ) ‘what exactly did you mean?’ he replied ‘I don’t have any idea, I don’t remember writing it and it doesn’t matter because an artwork has to stand for itself.’
Thank you Michael. That’s great and I’m so pleased you have had such a good year. I hear that you’re touring show in China has 25,000 hits in one month. I love your computer portraits, they are such a refreshing way of doing a portrait. How did you arrive at the technique?
I designed a screen saver for the Museum of Modern Art In New York where I did an installation in 2000. As a result of working on the screen saver the ideas progressed to the computer portraits. I was excited by the result as it was early days for doing that kind of thing.
What is your favourite painting of all the work you have done?
My favourite piece of work is one of the largest paintings in the museum in Dublin, it’s a big complex painting called Eye of the Storm, painted in 2002. I wanted to paint something where there was no background.
Michael Craig-Martin is hosting a book signing at the Serpentine this Saturday (6th). More information here
Photo Credit: Mike Bruce