Illustrated companion

The whole history of styles in art can be seen as that of different ways of representing reality. In modern art, from Constable and Courbet onwards, the nature of representation has become an increasingly prominent issue. This in turn led to artists becoming particularly interested in the philosophic question of the relationship between art and the reality it represents, and works began to appear in which this relationship is thrust forward as a significant part of the subject or content of the work. The first of such works were Picasso's Cubist collages and constructions of the period 1912-14. In his still life 'Guitar, Newspaper, Wine Glass and Bottle' [Tate Gallery T00414], the newspaper is represented by a piece of real newspaper collaged in. In his relief construction 'Still Life' [Tate Gallery T01136], the fringed tablecloth is represented by a real piece of bobbled trimming of the type frequently found on French tablecloths.

Michael Craig-Martin in this work has taken the exploration of the art/reality equation two steps further. The work reproduced here is in fact a drawing of another work by Craig-Martin so it is a work of art which is a representation of another work of art (NB, not a copy). The original work was made from four real clipboards each with a sheet of paper, pencil, and eraser on a piece of string - all the necessities for making a work of art in the medium pencil on paper. The work was completed by using each of the objects in their proper function to make what was in effect a representation of themselves. The 'drawing' done by the pencil was, characteristically of Conceptual Art, simply the title of the work. This title is itself simply a description of the work and is identical with the title of the work reproduced here. To carry out the function of the eraser the 'drawing' - the title - had necessarily to be erased, making the work incomprehensible. In order, therefore, to make apparent the nature of the work Craig-Martin took one element from each set of objects to make up a fifth set. The result was five incomplete sets, but, because in one of them the eraser was the missing object, in that one the written title remained intact and the work, paradoxically, was now complete. In any case Craig-Martin for the sake both of clarity and further to put in question the relationship of reality and representation, replaced each missing object with a photograph of itself. The photograph showing the eraser also shows the paper on the clipboard with the title written and erased - it thus shows one of the original complete clipboard sets with all functions completed, that no longer exist. Craig-Martin has not only made a work of art in which real objects represent themselves, he has also represented their real functions. The work reproduced here is a set of drawings, using various graphic media, of the five 'real' clipboard sets. Craig-Martin has written: 'My intention in the drawings was to use the findings of the original piece to create instances of interchangeable identity between object and image'. For example, in the drawings, the representation of the paper on the clipboard is identical to the paper in the original set. The title is actually written in the drawings so its representation is also identical with the original. The photographs are the same photographs, although here they are acting as representations of themselves.

The artist has also stressed that the apparent complexity of his works is the result of a series of simple steps and that this result has a much higher level of interest than any of the steps: the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. He writes: 'The work is the consequence of following through a long sequence of simple, logical, even obvious steps based on straightforward observation, to what is their cumulative logical, if absurd, conclusion. I wanted to demystify the complex - to make its structure transparent - without the loss of art's essential mystery. I believe that the "new" in art is not the result of invention but a reordering of the known, a shift of focus.'

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.272