Michael Craig-Martin

Full Life


Not on display

Michael Craig-Martin born 1941
Oil paint on aluminium and steel
Object: 2110 × 2610 × 95 mm
Purchased with funds provided by an anonymous donor 1998


Full Life is a large relief consisting of a painting combined with metal sculptural elements, which depicts a number of objects – a fork, a set of three keys, a safety pin and a handgun – at much larger than life size. These are represented using white lines against a uniform blue background, as well as thin, black metal rods that extend beyond the edges of the support, so that when the work is displayed the metal parts are set against the wall of the exhibition space. Although they are depicted as if three-dimensional, the way in which the items are superimposed over one another and presented without any accompanying environmental cues makes it difficult to ascertain clear spatial relationships between them. Furthermore, they appear out of proportion with one another: the safety pin, for instance, is as large as the pistol. The objects are all depicted in the same highly stylised manner, which is reminiscent of diagrammatic drawings or commercial illustrations.

This work was made in London in 1985 by the Irish artist Michael Craig-Martin. Its support is a sheet of aluminium, which Craig-Martin initially acid-etched, coated with a primer and then covered with white paint. He masked out the lines that would form the objects using tape and then applied blue paint to the rest of the support, after which the tape was removed, leaving visible the white parts that make up the shapes of the objects. A studio assistant brazed the steel rods, which are each just over 6 mm thick, and bent them into their present shapes based on drawings by Craig-Martin, after which they were welded to the rear of the support.

Although no specific account exists regarding sources for the images in Full Life, they were almost certainly produced using a method that Craig-Martin has employed frequently since 1978. He begins this process by drawing an object freehand onto paper, before tracing the resulting image onto acetate or drafting film using tape made from crêpe paper (see Michael Craig-Martin and Helen Waters, ‘Michael Craig-Martin in Conversation with Helen Waters at his London Studio, 26 January 2011’, in Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings 1967–2002, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2011, p.8). These tracings then form ‘templates’ that the artist uses to combine the objects in different ways across multiple works. Some of the same images that appear in Full Life also feature in other works by Craig-Martin, including Reading (With Pin) 1979.

The title of this work makes reference to the genre of still life painting, but the phrase ‘full life’ seems to emphasise the work’s dense layering of the objects, their larger-than-life size and the way that they project beyond the support, thus entering real rather than pictorial space. Since 1978 Craig-Martin has often made works depicting objects at disproportionately large sizes (see, for instance, Reading with Globe 1981, Tate T03102) and in 1989 he connected this with his desire to give images ‘the same presence’ as objects (Craig-Martin in Robert Rosenblum, ‘A Mid-Atlantic Conversation’, in Whitechapel Art Gallery 1989, p.73).

Full Life is part of a group of representational works that Craig-Martin produced between 1983 and 1986, each of which combines brazed steel rods with painted panels and frames. The curator Lynne Cooke argued in 1989 that these works occupy ‘a disturbing intermediary zone’ that is neither simply drawing, painting, relief nor sculpture, and that by ‘partaking of all these orthodox categories but belonging securely to none ... [they] revealed the artificial character of all art, and the arbitrariness of its conventional sub-categories’ (Lynne Cooke, ‘The Prevarications of Meaning’, in Whitechapel Art Gallery 1989, p.29). In the same year Craig-Martin stated that

To me the most interesting things in art happen in the border area ... between one form of art and another ... I’ve always found the divisions between things to be arbitrary, artificial and stultifying.
(Craig-Martin in Rosenblum 1989, p.71.)

Cooke has argued further that by placing the ‘immediacy of the pictorial image ... in tension with the assertive actuality of the abstract sculptural form’, the works in this group reflect upon the relationship between ‘representation’ and ‘material fact’ (Cooke 1989, p.29). In 2006 Craig-Martin stated that his emphasis on the shapes and outlines of objects addresses this connected between vision and representation, explaining that he has often explored

how we see a picture of something. For example, a picture of a hammer doesn’t actually look like a hammer at all … I can do a simple outline of things, a line drawing ... And I don’t need to tell you that this is a picture of a light bulb or a mobile phone or that they are different and they have different functions and are made out of different materials.
(Craig-Martin in Thomas 2006, p.40.)

Further reading
Michael Craig-Martin: A Retrospective, 1968–1989, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1989.
Richard Cork, Michael Craig-Martin, London 2006.
Rachel Thomas, Rachel Thomas Interviews Michael Craig-Martin, Dublin 2006.

David Hodge
March 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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