Michael Craig-Martin

Zeitgeist II


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Not on display
Michael Craig-Martin born 1941
Wood, acrylic paint on canvas, steel and lead
Presented by Carol and Neville Conrad 2001.


This is a wall-mounted sculpture made of two parts. It is intended to be hung above normal picture height, about 6’ from the floor. The outline of a back view of a soldier holding a rifle is laid over a rectangular canvas. This is tilted against the plane of the wall at an angle, so that the right corner is lower than the left. The soldier is in a curved position, upside-down – possibly falling. The extremities of his body extend beyond the canvas edges. Above the upper right corner of the canvas, the soles of his feet point towards the ceiling. The back of his head lies at the lower left corner, framed by his arms which extend beyond the edges of the canvas. On either side of his head, below and to the left of the canvas, the soldier’s hands hold the rifle which points towards the ground. The outlines of the body on the canvas are painted in even lines over a monotone green background. The central section of the body is outlined in red and the remainder is in black, extending without interruption into black steel rods which define the parts of the soldier off the canvas. The soldier has an archetypal appearance. Long boots, a round helmet on his head, a pouch at his waist and his rifle are the principal identifying elements. He was derived from a toy soldier, drawn from life in a neutral style.

The representation of an apparently whole human figure, as in Zeitgeist II, is a-typical of Craig-Martin’s practice, which has been based on utilitarian objects and their representation since the late 1960s. The relationship between seeing (apprehension) and reading (which depends on an underlying language) is a central concern. This is manifest, in such works as Six Foot Balance with Four Pounds of Paper 1970 (Tate T07975), in the difference between visual appearance and physical characteristics. During the late 1970s, Craig-Martin began to compile a ‘dictionary’ of images of ordinary household objects drawn from life. These diagrammatic representations are, for the artist, the visual equivalent of naming them. He has used this repertoire of images, singly or in groups, to make wall-drawings such as Reading with Globe 1980 (Tate T03102), paintings such as Knowing 1996 (Tate T07234) and wall-mounted sculptures such as Full Life 1985 (Tate T07392). Zeitgeist I (private collection), like Zeitgeist II, was made from a drawing of a toy soldier, an object which is itself a representation of something in the real world. In Zeitgeist I, the base of the toy soldier was included in Craig-Martin’s representation of it, emphasising its nature as a model. In Zeitgeist II this status is more ambiguous. In 1978, partly influenced by an essay by American phenomenologist Robert Sokolowski entitled ‘Picturing’ (The Review of Metaphyiscs, vol. XXXI, 1977, pp. 3-28) Craig-Martin set out a series of proposals concerning visual representation:

Picturing occurs when something is taken as a picture of something else.

Picturing requires that an object be taken as a picture, that something be recognized as pictured, and that someone takes the object as a picture...

Picturing can take place in the imagination or in the memory without any physical object being understood to be the picture.

Constructed pictures draw our attention to the object which is absent, the pictured...

Pictures do not merely refer to the pictured, but make the pictured present.

Recognizing that a thing remains itself whether it is present or absent makes naming and picturing possible.

Picturing enables us to experience the presence of a thing without the thing itself ...

Language, signs and pictures are not just aspects of our experience of the world.

They are intimately related to how and what we experience, and what we understand by the experience.

They are also crucially dependent on one another.

Names, pictures and signs would be impossible without each other.

(‘Taking Things as Pictures’, Artscribe, no.14, October 1978, pp.14-15.)

In relation to Zeitgeist I and II the artist has commented that the works combine the serious image of the soldier with the playfulness of children’s toys and has referred to them as ‘disengaged from reality’ (in unpublished conversation with the author, May 2003). Where a representation – or a picture – is already one remove from the original, these works are at a double remove from what is being ‘pictured’ – the soldier. Made in England in the year of the seventy-day Falklands War, in which Britain and Argentina fought over occupation of the islands in the south Atlantic Ocean, Zeitgeist I and II may be interpreted as echoing the local detachment from the reality of a war being fought at a great distance from home.

Further reading:
The British Art Show, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1984, pp.96 and 105
Michael Craig-Martin, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Galleries, London 1985
Michael Craig-Martin: A Retrospective 1968-1989, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, London 1989

Elizabeth Manchester
April/May 2003

Technique and condition

The following entry is based on an interview with the artist, Michael Craig-Martin, held on 15th May, 2003, as well as the conservation records held in Sculpture and Paintings Conservation.

The work is a single unit, comprising a stretched canvas and metal rod. The painted image on the canvas extends over the canvas and carries on beyond it in the form of square section steel rods, the same thickness as the painted lines. Holes have been drilled into the canvas and stretcher to allow the rod to be inset. The work has a custom made wall bracket 410x 380mm which is 175mm deep. It is screwed on the wall and a split batten holds the diagonal stretcher at the back of the canvas.

The artist made an actual size drawing with tape on paper and gave it to an assistant who bent the metal in a vice so as to match the tape lines, ‘I would draw in the line that was the exact size of the line he was using’ (artist interview 15/05/03). Sections of the steel rod were cut, brazed together and painted black. The canvas is cotton duck and was primed with an acrylic gesso. The panel was painted black and tape was used to create the outline of the image. The tape was sealed and green and red paint was then applied over the whole panel. The tape was then removed to reveal the black paint lines underneath. ‘Whatever colour the line is, the whole of that area has been coloured, not just the line” (artist interview 15/05/03).

The title and date of the art work and the artist’s signature are on the top edge of the back of the canvas.

The metal appears in fairly good structural condition but two sections have become detached from the right side of the stretcher, possibly due to wood shrinkage in the stretcher. The white powdery accretion is acidic and has caused the paint to become detached and to flake off in many areas, also revealing the grey undercoat used. In several other areas, the metal is bare. The canvas and support are in good condition but both are slightly dirty. In 2002, the white accretion was brushed off and loose parts were re-adhered.

Bryony Bery
August 2003

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