An artistic vocabulary

Posted on 26 Feb 2010 at 12:24am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Gay conceptual Britarist Michael Craig-Martin writes words with images in a new exhibit at the Goss-Michael

SEAMLESS ART | A salon in the Goss-Michael Foundation is dominated by a single custom sheet of wallpaper featuring images that Britart mentor Michael Craig-Martin, above, has culled over the decades; three years ago, he introduced letters to his repertoire. (Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones)


PARADE OF IMAGES
Michael Craig-Martin at the Goss-Michael Foundation,
2500 Cedar Springs. Exhibition on view through April 20.
GossMichaelFoundation.org.

When you enter the current exhibit of Michael Craig-Martin paints now on display at the Goss-Michael Foundation, it becomes a categorical impossibility to divorce yourself of the first two images you see — a pair of handcuffs and a urinal — from the history of the gallery’s co-owner: Hasn’t George Michael had more than his share of legal run-ins not too far from a public toilet? The symbolism of these items in the pubic life of a couple cannot be lost on you … nor, for that matter, on GMF’s management, or the artist himself.

So it might seem unlikely that Michael Craig-Martin, the artist responsible for the images, did not paint them with George Michael in mind; the meaning is purely coincidental. Or the irony might be what caused Michael and Goss to start collecting Craig-Martin in the first place.

Certainly many have. Craig-Martin — born in Dublin, reared in D.C., educated at Yale and now based on London — had straddled so many cultures, it’s no wonder his work has influenced a generation of English conceptualists (known collectively as the Young British Artists) that include Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Like Marcel Duchamp, his early style often consisted or "readymades" (or "found art") artfully configured, although he’s best known now for his oversized, colorful use of recurrent images, a style that calls to mind pop art of the 1950s and ’60s … except to Craig-Martin himself.

"I never thought of myself as a pop artist," he says, during the opening of his exhibit earlier this month (it runs through April 30). "But the accessibility is something I like about pop art. Your mind all closes off to the things that aren’t relevant. Too often, you can look but not see."

Like his late friend Andy Warhol, Craig-Martin repeatedly employs everyday objects in his paintings (like handcuffs and urinals), sometimes overlapping and silhouetting them. But Craig-Martin has taken his ethic even further.

"I never draw the same thing twice," he says. "Images are like words or letters — we rearrange the element to create new meanings." Thus, his art is a form of modern-day hieroglyphics where the juxtaposition of familiar things suggests a deeper meaning.

Recently, Craig-Martin has done something previously unknown in his work: Expanded it to include letters. In paintings like OK, letters and objects combine, with a tennis shoe representing the "O," a pail the "K." Craig-Martin is spelling with household goods.

"I started doing that three or four years ago," he says.

The innovations continue in the GMF exhibit. The center gallery features some of his older works in the private collection of Goss and Michael; the right gallery some of his newer works (the ones with the letters). But it’s in the salon where Craig-Martin really goes to town.

Decorated like a sitting room, the space is dominated by a custom designed seamless sheet of "wallpaper," that unites numerous themes in his repertoire in a massive, overlapping sea of silhouettes. (The piece was tailored for the space, with whimsical touches, such as the image of a watch sitting directly above the fireplace — a nod to the traditional "clock on the mantel."

Another wall is dominated by two cartoonish electronic portraits of Michael and Goss that constantly rotate colors in an algorithm so that you never see the same picture twice — an Andy Warhol silkscreen of perpetual motion.

"I think Andy would have liked all the technology," Craig-Martin says.

He’s not the only one — the rest of us think it’s pretty cool, too.       

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.

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