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Gagosian Hong Kong presents recent paintings by British conceptual artist Michael Craig-Martin
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (Headphones), 2014. Acrylic on aluminum, 78 3/4 x 78 3/4 inches 200 x 200 cm © Michael Craig-Martin. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo Mike Bruce.

HONG KONG.- A principal figure of British conceptual art, Craig-Martin probes the relationship between objects and images, harnessing the human capacity to imagine absent forms through symbols and pictures. The perceptual tension between object, representation, and language has been his central concern over the past four decades. During the late 1970s, he began to transcribe everyday items into “pictorial readymades” directly onto gallery walls, and since the 1990s onto canvas in conjunction with vivid artificial color. His drawings, paintings, and monumental steel sculptures are representations in the truest sense of the word, conveying familiar subjects as concisely as possible and thereby inviting each viewer’s personal response.

Recent paintings on aluminum panels, some larger than two meters square, depict a new range of contemporary objects—a high-heeled shoe, a disposable coffee cup, an energy-saving lightbulb—in an electric palette tinged with neon blues, greens, and pinks. The simplest object can become iconic. The amplified archetypes may lure the viewer into associations with his or her own corkscrew, headphones, or prescription pills. Continuing to resist any elaboration of form, Craig-Martin allows himself absolute chromatic freedom, casting the line-drawn silhouettes—which he draws digitally, then executes using paint rollers and thin tape—against vivid backgrounds of turquoise or purple. The selected colors disrupt the usual identity of the explicitly described objects, as in a subtly self-referential painting of a standard paint roller suspended in a magenta picture plane. “The drawings are as precisely like the thing as I can make them, and the color is as artificial as I can make it,” Craig-Martin has said. In this way, he uses color to “subvert” the image.

Influenced by the color theory of Josef Albers—and realizing a congruous visual ambiguity in his specific approach to representation—Craig-Martin continuously explores how color affects perception. A series of black canvases, exhibited first at Kunstmuseen Krefeld in 2013, isolates his enduring subjects. Untitled (briefcase) (2012) depicts a red briefcase with green catches, complimentary colors that push the quotidian image into the foreground. Conversely, in Untitled (soupcan profile) (2013)—an oblique homage to Andy Warhol—the lower half of the can matches the black background, causing it to disappear; the remaining image is a reductivist trace of a soup can comprising a blue square, a green circle, and four orange and blue lines. Expanding upon his signature generalization of the object, Craig-Martin negates it to bring color and form into perfect balance.

Michael Craig-Martin was born in Dublin in 1941, and studied at Yale University, New Haven from 1963 to 1966. He was a professor at Goldsmith’s College, London from 1974–88 and 1994–2000, where he was a significant influence on emerging British artists. Craig-Martin’s work is represented in public collections worldwide, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Permanent large-scale installations are on view at Laban Dance Center, London and European Investment Bank, Luxembourg. Solo museum exhibitions include “Always Now,” Kunstverein Hannover (1998); IVAM, Valencia (2000); “Living,” Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Portugal (2001); “Signs of Life,” Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2006); and “Less Is Still More,” Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, Germany (2013). Retrospectives include Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1989); and Irish Museum of Modern Art (2006–07). Craig-Martin lives and works in London.

“Michael Craig-Martin at Chatsworth,” an installation of large-scale steel sculpture, is on view at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire through June 29, 2014. A major exhibition of recent work by Craig-Martin will be presented at Himalayas Museum, Shanghai from January 30–March 30, 2015.

I started making drawings of ordinary objects, one at a time, in 1977. I drew them on A4 paper with a pencil and then traced them in very fine tape onto acetate to remove all trace of their being handmade. I had no idea where they might take me, and it would have been inconceivable to me that they would remain at the center of my work to this day. I intended them to be “styleless,” but over the years the way they look has come to be recognizable as my style. —Michael Craig-Martin

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