Craig-Martin’s earliest work combined minimalism and conceptualism. His sculptures and installations focussed on ordinary, mass produced functional objects altered or assembled in ways which drew attention to relationships between form and purpose. During the 1970s he began to develop a unique style of drawing from life. Using a mechanical line, without inflection or any other sense of the artist’s own hand, he built up a vocabulary of several hundred images which he has used ‘over and over again as a way of trying to construct situations, to construct images and pictures, places ... to use very simple things to describe very complex ideas ... Because they’re so familiar, they’re like a universal language, anybody can see them.’ (Quoted in Eye of the Storm, ‘Interview’.) In Craig-Martin’s compositions, objects are placed next to one another, or a number of objects are layered one on top of the other, giving rise to perspectival conundrums or confusions of scale as all are treated as having equal dimensions. These neutral representations have been realised as wall drawings, such as Reading With Globe 1980 (Tate T03102), and wall-mounted, painted aluminium sculptural reliefs, such as Full Life
1985 (Tate T07392). More recently, in such works as Knowing 1996 (Tate T07234), the objects are painted in acrylic on canvas in a palette of bright colours, accentuated by separation with the black line used to outline and describe the objects.
In 2001, Craig-Martin made his first digital work: a multicoloured animated screensaver, Coloured TV, which is available on the BBC Arts website for the viewer to download and install on his or her own computer. The artist was assisted by the London-based design group AVCO (Daniel Jackson and Tina Spear), who developed the software for a computer-generated artwork based on a line drawing of a standard television set that would continuously change colour. The image was displayed in BBC /ARTS at Lux Gallery, London E1 in April that year.
Becoming was presented as part of Craig-Martin’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, New York in 2003. It is a computer-generated animation playing on a wall-mounted Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen. The monitor has a simple black frame, which has been professionally re-sprayed to render it anonymous in appearance. A series of Craig-Martin’s elementary line drawings, vividly coloured, fade in and out of visibility against the fuchsia pink background. At any one time, eighteen objects - a chair, a pair of pliers, a tape cassette, a fan, a pitchfork, a sandal, a light bulb, a drawer, a metronome, a book, a bucket, a TV, a flashlight, a safety-pin, a knife, a pair of handcuffs and a medicine jar spilling pills – may appear onscreen. For this project, AVCO developed a programme that generates the random appearance and disappearance of the objects. Unlike Coloured TV, Becoming is not a screensaver, which eventually burns the image into the computer screen. The objects may all appear at once, or none may be visible for a considerable length of time. The programme allows for unpredictable combinations which may never be repeated. In this sense, the work evokes the process of creation. Craig-Martin has used such titles as Conviction (1973, Tate T01764) to refer to the belief system which, for him, is central to art. His most famous work, An Oak Tree 1973 (Tate L02262), makes this overt through reference to the Catholic process of transubstantiation. The title of Becoming suggests a return to religious metaphor – evoking the Biblical Word of God to the notion of emergence to visibility and identification - and the concepts of representation and recognition which have been at the heart of Craig-Martin’s practice for nearly twenty-five years.
Becoming was produced in an edition of six plus two artist’s proofs, of which Tate’s copy is the third.
Michael Craig-Martin: Eye of the Storm, exhibition CD-ROM, Gagosian Gallery, New York 2003, reproduced in colour (‘Preview’)
Michael Craig-Martin: Inhale/Exhale, exhibition catalogue, Manchester art Gallery 2002
Michael Craig-Martin: Surfacing, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery 2004