Michael Craig-Martin

Reading with Globe


Not on display

Michael Craig-Martin born 1941
Acrylic tape on wall
Purchased 1980


Reading with Globe is a drawing made directly onto the wall with black adhesive tape. It depicts a group of nine objects, which are represented in simple outline. The objects are clustered close together in a balanced composition. They are a table, a stepladder, a filing cabinet, two chairs (facing backwards and forwards), a globe, an ice-cube tray, a book and a light bulb. Although the pieces of furniture standing in the background appear to be in correct proportion to one another, the foreground objects – globe, book, ice cube tray and light bulb – are all enlarged to unnatural proportions. The globe, positioned directly in front of the table, occupies the centre of the image. The book, to its left, lies open, its blank, white pages offering nothing to read. Like all Craig-Martin’s wall drawings, Reading with Globe is intended to exist as a temporary installation that may be infinitely repeated. The artist has specified that only one version of each drawing may exist at any one time. The drawing is made by projecting a 35mm slide onto the wall. It may be projected to any dimension. The artist prefers the work to be installed alone on the wall, even if it is small. On its first exhibition at Tate in 1981, the drawing was enlarged to nearly six metres in height. The slide was created from an original drawing made on translucent drawing film using very narrow black adhesive tape. This original drawing and two copies of the slide are essential constituents of the work held by Tate, although they are not intended for exhibition. The artist retains copies of the original drawing and the slide as well as the right to exhibit his copy of the drawing and to trace from it.

For Craig-Martin, the diagrammatic representation of ordinary objects is a visual equivalent to naming them. He makes drawings from life of man-made objects onto sheets of A4 tracing paper. The object is viewed from a perspective which emphasises its three-dimensionality. Each object is drawn to fill the page. The drawings are then traced over onto sheets of acetate using very narrow adhesive tape. He has explained: ‘this line generalises the object, gives it the diagrammatic quality you refer to. It also gives a unity to the character of the line itself, so that the line, in a sense, drops away. I want my pictures of objects to look as much like unadulterated facts as the objects themselves.’ (Quoted in Michael Craig-Martin: A Retrospective 1968-1989, p.72.) Craig-Martin has assembled a ‘dictionary’ of drawn objects over the years, from which he selects what he needs for a new configuration. Putting the objects together in a group such as that depicted in Reading with Globe results in deliberate confusions of scale, since objects not normally the same size have been allocated equal dimensions. Craig-Martin began making wall drawings in the late 1970s. Initially, in such works as Iron, Watch, Safety Pin, Pliers 1978 (British Council Collection), the objects were transparent and superimposed, their overlapping outlines creating a disorientating network of lines. In 1980 he made a series of Reading drawings, including Reading with Ironing Board (Waddington Galleries, London) and Reading with Shoes (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). In these, as in Reading with Globe, the objects may overlap, but are opaque and are arranged in spatial relation to one another. The drawing of a book is present in all these Reading works, operating as a pun on the visual vocabulary being presented, which the viewer is offered to ‘read’. Following the logic of Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the ready-made, which was established in 1917 by titling a urinal Fountain (remade 1964, Tate T07573), Craig-Martin sees everyday objects as models for works of art. He has stated: ‘I try to get rid of as much meaning as I can. People’s need to find meanings, to create associations, renders this impossible. Meaning is both persistent and unstable.’ (Quoted in Michael Craig-Martin: A Retrospective 1968-1989, p.73.)

Further reading:
Michael Craig-Martin, exhibition catalogue, Fifth Triennale India, British Council, New Delhi 1982, p.6, reproduced pp.11 and 15
Michael Craig-Martin: A Retrospective 1968-1989, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1989, reproduced front cover, pp.86-7, pl.28 and p.126
Michael Craig-Martin: Selected Works 1966-1975, exhibition catalogue, Turnpike Gallery, Leigh, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol 1976

Elizabeth Manchester
December 2002

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Display caption

Reading with Globe is a drawing made directly onto the wall by tracing over a projected image using self-adhesive black tape. The drawing can be made at any size, according to the discretion of the gallery. The everyday objects brought together in the drawing are taken from a ‘dictionary’ of images assembled over the years by the artist. Although the smallest item is placed in the foreground, large and small are clustered so closely together that differences in scale seem deliberately confused.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry



Not inscribed
(a) Wall tracing, plastic tape on wall, variable size
(b) Original drawing, plastic tape on plastic film, 30 × 30 (76.2 × 76.2)
Purchased from the Rowan Gallery (Gytha Trust) 1980
Exh: Michael Craig-Martin, Rowan Gallery,March–April 1980 (no catalogue)
Repr: Michael Craig-Martin (exh. catalogue), Fifth Triennale India, New Delhi, March–April 1982, p.11 (the 1980 Rowan Gallery installation) and p.15 (a 1981 installation at the Tate Gallery)

'Reading with Globe’ is a drawing made straight onto the wall of the gallery with self-adhesive black tape. It is intended to exist as a temporary but precisely repeatable installation. The owner retains the secondary material necessary for the execution of the work: the original compositional drawing, a 35mm. slide of this drawing, and a contractual document setting out the rights of the owner to make the work itself (it can be executed by anyone the owner nominates).

The work is made by projecting the 35mm. slide on a wall to any size desired. Craig-Martin decided when making the first installation in the Tate to enlarge the image to the maximum size that could be accomodated on the chosen wall, approximately 18 feet in height. He prefers the work to be shown alone on whatever wall it is installed, even if the projection is only four or five feet high.

The special tape, which can be obtained in a range of widths, is chosen to match the projected line as closely as possible. It is applied over the projected image tracing it precisely. This tape has a crêpe backing allowing it to stretch, and can be bent to match the curvatures of the projected image. To execute the drawing with tape to the scale of the original Tate installation takes two to three days.

The 35mm. slide is made from what the artist refers to as the compositional drawing, i.e. the complete image drawn in 1/32in. tape on a sheet of translucent drawing film. This compositional drawing is created from a ‘dictionary’ of images made by the artist over several years.

Craig-Martin makes drawings from life of individual man-made objects. Each of these pencil drawings is on a sheet of tracing paper of the same size (A4), and each object is drawn to fill the sheet. He chooses a viewpoint which provides a dramatic and characteristic rendering of the object, emphasizing its three-dimensional qualities. He sees these simple drawings as picturing objects in a way that is equivalent to naming them. The pencil drawings are overlaid with sheets of clear acetate and tracings are then made with narrow ( 7/8in.) adhesive tape. The tape lines are precise and inflectionless, and give the drawings a detached and mechanical character like that of the objects they represent. The artist has completed more than a hundred of these individual drawings on clear acetate, creating a dictionary of images.

Craig-Martin combines a group of these drawings to make the compositional drawing, literally constructing a drawing from drawings. He plays with these transparent images until their disposition one to the other is established and a specific spatial relationship created. All the dictionary images are approximately the same size, and are not altered in making the composition. However the size difference between the objects pictured (e.g. the light bulb and the ladder) suggests great scale changes, when seen together. Identical individual images can be used in different object groupings and compositions. Once a composition has been determined a tracing is made on translucent drawing film. This compositional drawing and the slide made from it are essential and unique constituents of the final work.

For ‘Reading with Globe’ Craig-Martin chose to combine images ranging from the smallest to the largest objects in his dictionary, and assemble them to create a unified and coherently receding space. The objects grade from the smallest in the foreground to the largest at the rear, but, because of the similarity of size of the images, the small objects appear enormous, as though in close-up, and the space between the objects appears to have contracted, forcing these disparate objects into unfamiliar proximity. The result is a collapsed and claustrophobic perspective.

Craig-Martin has used commonplace objects (both actual and as images) in his art for many years. He views simple objects of use as the most basic internally coherent and expressive man-made objects. As such they seem to him to underlie and act as models for the more complex, sophisticated and self-conscious material objects of expression, i.e. works of art.

In the wall drawing, these images of the material world are themselves practically immaterial, consisting only of tape and wall surface. Nothing in the images alludes directly to the size, materials, colours, function, and associations of the original objects, yet, because they are commonplace and instantly recognizable, the viewer brings this knowledge through experience to the work.

Though no narrative is intended, narrative relationships between the objects abound.

The wall drawing conjures the physical presence of the simple objects it pictures and transforms them to create a new and heroic presence, not a representation of the physical world but a metaphor for it. This is the subject of the work. On the wall, the drawing becomes part of the room, its implied space entangled with and inseparable from the actual space of the room, more sculpture than a painting. The mystery of the work is the mystery of image making.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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