Object of the month: July 2015

Michael Craig-Martin RA, 'Self-Portrait' (2007)

Published 1 July 2015

The artist’s printmaking combines boldly defined outline with vivid colouring, an approach which the artist also applies to his own self-image.

  • Michael Craig-Martin RA was born in Dublin and educated in the United States, where he studied Fine Art at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture. His graduate course at New Haven was taught by former students of Josef Albers, whose art and teaching was based on the strict analysis of fundamental elements of a picture – colour, space and form were understood in their own right as individual phenomena. Craig-Martin has said, “everything I know about colour comes from that course”. Yale students were given pads of cheap newsprint paper and encouraged to draw simple outline drawings; this important teaching method also informed Craig-Martin’s experimentation with line.

    Both these influences can be seen at play in his Self-Portrait (Aqua) (pictured). As with all Craig-Martin’s prints, this work exhibits an incredibly vivid use of colour, which enhances the flat appearance and sharply defined outlines of each element of the composition. He decided early on in his career to solely utilise intensely saturated colours, thereby eliminating any sense of shadow or nuance between colours in his work.

    While at Yale, Craig-Martin was also exposed to the American art scene of the early 1960s, visiting shows by artists such as Roy Lichenstein, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. Of Warhol in particular, Craig-Martin said: “Warhol is possibly the most important figure in the fundamental change that occurred in art in the early 60s…[he] changes the whole notion about what a work of art is and how one deals with it.”

  • Michael Craig-Martin RA, Self-Portrait (Aqua)

    Michael Craig-Martin RA, Self-Portrait (Aqua), 2007.

    Acrylic on aluminium. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

  • Warhol’s choice to depict ‘common’ objects, coloured at random and presented as art was a radical move which Craig-Martin admired. The artist’s own printmaking also takes everyday objects as subject matter and combines boldly defined outline with vivid colouring, an approach which the artist also applies to his own self-image: the defined, linear drawing style combined with complete freedom and openness in the choice of colours.

    Michael Craig-Martin RA is co-ordinator of the Summer Exhibition, on show in the Main Galleries until 16 August 2015. See the artist of the month for July, the illustrator Walter Crane RA.