Alan Cristea Gallery, 31 & 34 Cork Street, London, W1S 3NU ,
31 May 2011
Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings 1967 - 2002
Title : Michael Craig-Martin, installation view
Website : www.alancristea.com
Credit : Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery, London
Michael Craig-Martin review by Phoebe Dickerson
As a student of Josef Albers at Yale, Michael Craig-Martin was instructed to do repeated freehand studies of upside down flowerpots. Summarizing his drawing practices, Craig-Martin keeps it simple: ‘Basically I still draw flowerpots’.
The validity of this claim is made immediately apparent on stepping into this exhibition – the first major survey of his drawings in the course of his forty-five year career. As in the rest of his oeuvre, ordinary, everyday objects and geometrical shapes are repeated over and again, often on graph paper or grids, often levitating one above another, always with what appears to be an incredibly confident un-modulated and uninterrupted pen line.
And yet, the fluid freehand that Albers’ teachings were designed to train, are only occasionally manifest in this exhibition. Rather, most of these drawings employ a fine crepe tape, invented in the 1960s for drawings of electrical circuitry. It is this tape (albeit now replaced by computerized drawing tools) that is responsible for the line – consistently undifferentiated by pressures or fluctuations of the hand – with which Craig-Martin’s name is synonymous.
Without the block colour that so often characterizes his monumental paintings, here, an economy of pure line articulates itself against white or graph paper. Such is the meticulous boldness of Craig-Martin’s line that his drawings appear to construct themselves from the white page on which they stand, or to pull themselves forward from the pale isometric webs or standard grids behind them.
Perhaps Craig-Martin is less a draughtsman and more a sculptor? Just as his line is more than a mark or stain, being a material in itself, so he is able to construct or build as he draws. His compositions themselves indicate this attitude. As he writes of his own art, ‘the kinds of relationships that interest me have more to do with a sculptural understanding of space in the world than a painterly one’. An early interest in drawings of flat-pack boxes or boxes with lids indicates this opening up of the planar world of the page, just as later images of single or grouped objects (a globe might jostle with an umbrella, briefcase or drawer as in Studies for Broadgate Project) harness and distort that planar singularity.
These drawings both enhance, and are enhanced by, an understanding or awareness of Craig Martin’s wider works. The brave simplicity, for example, of his 1975 project, Turning Pages (a neon line sculpture of a forever opening book commissioned for Margate Public Library) strikes home more immediately when the pure line drawing is seen – its geometry so lucid and uncontrived as to almost evoke an organic form.
In a world where art is so often trammeled by celebrity culture’s obsession with personality, Michael Craig Martin’s drawings provide an oasis: a space where meticulous distillation enables forms to emerge from ideas, ideas to emerge from forms, without the intrusion of character or persona to distract or compel our attention.