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Martin Creed

British Multimedia Artist and Musician

Martin Creed Photo

Born: 21 October 1968 - Wakefield, England

"The only thing I feel like I know is that I want to make things"

Summary of Martin Creed

Martin Creed is an artist best known for turning the lights on and off. Winning the Turner Prize (the most prestigious art award in the UK) in 2001 for an installation that consisted only of that action, his conceptual art practice has been ridiculed by sectors of the media but nevertheless left him a hugely significant and well-regarded contemporary artist with a prominent national and international profile within the art world.

Creed's work takes everyday objects, throwaway materials and playful subversions of familiar spaces and asks its viewers to divine meaning through the experience of their viewing. In doing so he raises questions about the material requirements of art and the hang-ups of skill, effort and training that dictate how we judge quality. Although rejecting the label of conceptual art, his work is deeply invested in the notion that art is, and indeed should be present all around us, requiring only attention. This leads to installations, music, performance and objects that are playful and often amusing in their subversive call to reconsider what art is, what it does, and who it is for.

Key Ideas

Creed's work is grounded in the everyday and mundane, made strange by the frame they are placed within. He does so by using familiar objects, materials, or actions in unusual ways, such as structuring them around a rhythm or adhering to tight rules. This has included arranging objects by size, height or volume to create sculptural installations, or creating paintings by marking canvases with the strokes of different sizes of household brushes. Creed's actions as an artist makes his audience reconsider the world around them by reappraising the familiar, foregrounding the unacknowledged beauty that exists in the everyday.
Creed's work often includes humor, prankishness and/or direct challenges to notions of value, worth and skill. His artworks are conceptually sophisticated but almost deliberately invite the response 'but I could have done that'. This has caused his work to be ridiculed and condemned as a 'con', but that reaction too forms part of its impact. Implicit in this is a challenge to the art market, the international gallery system, and perhaps capitalism itself, where a simple action or everyday object can have its value hugely increased by its framing as an art object.
Although best known as a visual artist, Creed is also a musician, and ideas of musical rhythm and notation appear throughout all his practice. Scores and notation structure and dictate the experience of his work, with incremental progressions particularly common, as in the graphic patterns of his paintings or in his reimaging of the Scotsman Staircase in Edinburgh, Work no.1059.
Since his Turner Prize win, Creed has created a series of large public pieces, several of which are now highly regarded as monuments to civic or institutional pride (such as the steps, or his neon installation at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art). Despite its media characterisation as impenetrable or elitist, Creed's work has great popular appeal, confirming his egalitarian approach to the making and viewing of art.
Martin Creed Photo

Creed was born in Wakefield, England in 1968 before moving to Scotland at three, where his father (an ironmonger) lectured on glassmaking and jewellery at the Glasgow School of Art. Creed grew up in a musical as well as artistic family. His grandmother was a concert pianist, and Creed began to learn to play the violin at four and the piano at twelve. As he remembers, "I was taught as a child the most important things were music and art." These two forms would later be combined throughout his own artistic work.

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