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In the studio with… Michael Craig-Martin

29 September 2021

Michael Craig-Martin is known for his boldly outlined and brightly coloured images of everyday items. His most famous conceptual work, An Oak Tree (1973), consisted of a glass of water on a shelf accompanied by a text claiming that it is in fact an oak tree; this fascination with objects and how they are represented or described continues in his work today. Marking the artist’s 80th birthday, ‘Michael Craig-Martin: All Things Considered’ is an exhibition of recent acrylic-on-aluminium paintings at Reflex Amsterdam (2 October–15 December): objects depicted include a coffee cup, an Apple Watch and – inevitably – a face mask.   

Where is your studio?
In London, off City Road between the Angel and Old Street. A great central London location and only a 20-minute walk from where I live.
What do you like most about the space?
Virtually everything. It is a big cheerful space divided into two parts: office-slash-library and painting studio. The ceiling is high, the light is good, the location is quiet.
What frustrates you about it?
Originally I had all the windows fitted with white glass for privacy. I wish I’d left the top row clear so I could have an occasional glance at the sky. After 20 years of constant use it needs updating but I repeatedly put this off because of the disruption it would cause to my work.
Do you work alone?
I have one studio assistant.

Untitled (mask 2) (2020), Michael Craig-Martin.

Untitled (mask 2) (2020), Michael Craig-Martin. Photo: Lucy Dawkins. Courtesy the artist, Gagosian and Reflex Amsterdam; © Michael Craig-Martin

How messy is your studio?
Messy. My work is very clean and precise but making it involves mess. I like it that way.
What does it smell like?
Surprisingly fresh. I have two large Swiss air filter machines that run 24 hours a day. Because of my central London location there is traffic pollution and a surprising amount of street dust, all of which is bad for us and the work.

What’s the weirdest object in there?
A wicker picnic hamper from Fortnum’s full of provisions, which I was sent by Barclays some years ago to retain my custom after they made a gross error at my expense. It must have worked as I still bank with them.
Which artistic tool could you least do without?
Small paint rollers.

Untitled (with Apple Watch) (2020), Michael Craig-Martin.

Untitled (with Apple Watch) (2020), Michael Craig-Martin. Photo: Mike Bruce. Courtesy the artist, Gagosian and Reflex Amsterdam; © Michael Craig-Martin

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
Richard Cork’s comprehensive Thames and Hudson 2006 book on my work. Its numerous reproductions are the quickest and most accurate way for me to direct people seeking information on specific earlier works. Which is surprisingly often.

Do you pin up images of other artists’ works?
What’s your typical studio lunch?
There is a basic kitchen but I do not cook in the studio. A typical lunch is local takeaway food, like that of most other office workers. I do love having a proper restaurant lunch but it does tend to undermine the afternoon. These days a good lunch makes me want to go home for a nap.
What do you listen to while you’re working?
If anything, Radio 4. I find music distracting (I either like it enough to want to stop and listen or I don’t like it and get irritated). I find the sound of people speaking acts as a form of company.
Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had to your studio?
George Michael. I was surprised that we spoke so easily to each other about the pleasures and the difficulties of making art. A memorably nice and sympathetic person.

Is anything (or anyone) banned?
Banned is too strong. I am careful about who I invite to the studio as I am much more sensitive to someone’s reaction to something I’m working on than something I’ve finished.

‘Michael Craig-Martin: All Things Considered’ is at Reflex Amsterdam from 2 October–15 December.