PaperCity Magazine

November 2014 - Houston

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VISUAL MEMORIES. I grew up in Washington, D.C. in the '50s, and there wasn't a whole lot to see in terms of art, but there were two things. The National Gallery is a free museum because it belongs to the people, so I went there quite often. Another place I liked to visit was the Phillips Collection — an incredible private collection of the highest quality. And I'll tell you something that was really amazing: In 1957 or '58, I went to the collection, and they had a room full of Rothkos. Just extraordinary. So the Phillips was a great eye opener for me. Also, when I was a teenager and my parents lived in Bogotá, Colombia, I started to take drawing classes with Antonio Roda, and he was a very good artist and a wonderful teacher. It showed me that it was possible to be an artist. BIG MOMENTS IN YOUR PERSONAL ART HISTORY: YALE + GOLDSMITHS. I was really lucky because I went to Yale. I knew it was a great university and that there was an arts program, but I had no idea it was a great art school. I was really lucky to be there during one of its tremendous moments. There were also very few undergraduates in the program, so when I got there, they just threw us in with the graduate students. I found myself, at 19, in classes with people four or five years older than myself. Graduate students: Richard Serra, Brice Marden, Chuck Close. So my introduction to art was at such a high level. It's very interesting that when you [look at teaching at] Goldsmiths in the late '80s. That was the only time I got to be around very interesting people as students — strange coincidences of a certain junction of people who gel in some kind of way creatively. You see it in history with the Impressionists and the Cubists and the Abstract Expressionists. This happens at art schools too. TAKE US TO 1966, AFTER YOUR BFA AND MBA FROM YALE. My close friends were people like Jonathan Borofsky, Jennifer Bartlett and Victor Burgin. Through Victor, I was looking for a job in teaching and couldn't find one in America, so he suggested that I go to England for a year. I wrote to a bunch of schools, and one of them wrote back and said to come. That's the reason I came to England. I never intended to stay, but one thing led to another, and here I am. When I arrived, I had no career; I was just out of college, and I didn't know anybody, but I became sort of embedded in England. It becomes your roots. ON THE INVIGORATING PRESENCE OF COLOR. When you know my drawings, they're very straight. I never try to do anything funny or distort anything. There's never a hand in front of it. In a sense, they're just very factual and understated. Whereas everything that they aren't, I put into color. The color is irrational. The color is very assertive. The color is very particular. PALETTE BREAKTHROUGH. For many years, really until the '90s, I was quite frightened of using color. The thing that happened to me … I had a gallery in Paris called Claudine Papillon Gallery, and that means "butterfly gallery." I had this idea that I had been thinking about for years, but I hadn't done it. The gallery had six rooms and a courtyard. So I asked if I could paint each room in the gallery a different bright color, then paint images on the walls of these rooms. The minute you walked into this gallery, you would go from a red room to a yellow room, from the yellow room to a pink room, a pink room to a turquoise room. My whole life was transformed from that experience. IN THE BEGINNING: YOUR MIGHTY OAK. Obviously one of the key things that happened to me was when I did An Oak Tree, which is this conceptual piece. I showed it in 1974, and it just consisted of a glass of water on a glass shelf high on the wall, and there was a text from this interview that I had written with myself. One part of me in the interview was the artist, and the other part is the skeptic. And in the interview as the artist, I have claimed that I've actually changed the glass of water into an oak tree, even though I haven't changed the appearance. So it doesn't look like an oak tree at all, but I'm claiming that it is one … I saw the oak tree as a model of all works of art. You have to believe in it and allow it to be transformative. WHAT CONCEPT CONNECTS SUCH DISPARATE WORK AS THE MINIMALIST, CONCEPTUALIST AN OAK TREE WITH YOUR VIBRANTLY HUED PAINTINGS OF COMMON OBJECTS? It's always very difficult to talk about philosophical underlinings without sounding sort of … grand. The work of an artist, to me, is always a combination of the sublime and mundane. For myself, ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by everything in the visual world, particularly the man-made world. Objects and architecture and art — all the ways we've changed the way the world is. In my work, I've tried to explore, through perception and language, how those things determine what our experience of the visual world is. It's really the pictures of things that underlie verbal language — they're universal. ON LIGHT AND TECHNOLOGY. I did a sequence of a series of neon works around 1975. That always interested me — everything to do with light. It's really an old-fashioned thing, neon, and I think that if it wasn't for artists working with neon, the whole industry would have disappeared by now. But, over the years, I've occasionally worked with neon, like Lightbulb, 2006, for Kunsthaus Bregenz, in Austria. "I MUST BE A COMPLETELY MAD PERSON TO HAVE DRAWN ALL OF THESE THINGS OVER ALL OF THESE YEARS." — MICHAEL CRAIG-MARTIN LONDON CALLING CHATS CHATSWORTH AND NEONS MICHAEL CRAIG-MARTIN Michael Craig-Martin, photographed by Caroline True at his London studio, August 27, 2014 On the eve of his 73rd birthday, the pioneering artist/teacher/curator famously known as the Goldsmiths College professor of Damien Hirst and Richard Patterson (among others) contemplates five decades in the British art world. Would there have been any YBAs without Michael Craig-Martin? Catherine D. Anspon investigates the seminal English painter/sculptor, who is being honored at MTV Re:Define at The Goss-Michael Foundation during Dallas Art Fair Week 2015. In an exclusive phone chat with MCM from his London studio, we learn why his paintings and sculptures of prosaic and utterly commonplace objects are decidedly not Pop art, his thoughts on Lady Burlington, what really went down at Chatsworth House and why he's got a huge crush on color.

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