Updated: Mar 8, 2021
We recently came across this video by artist Martin Creed, which he made during the UK's first lockdown in May 2020. Crikey does this man hit the nail on the head. It's agony to watch him squirming around on a bed, his body contorted, full of self-doubt, indecisive. And then finally taking comfort in procrastination. It's all so familiar.
TAKE THE PLUNGE © Martin Creed
Martin Creed is one of Britain's most celebrated artists. He's the guy who won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No 227: The lights going on and off. The piece consisted of nothing really. Just the experience of being in a room with the light switching on and off every 5 seconds. It got people extremely cross. One gallery-goer threw eggs at the wall, mournfully shouting that artists' skills were dying out.
This is the ultimate in conceptual art. And many would decry it as pointless, and definitely not art. But as soon as Marcel Duchamp exhibited mass-produced, functional objects such as a urinal and a snow shovel in the early 20th century, things radically shifted. What could be categorised as art expanded from painting and sculpture to performance, installation, ready-made objects, film, words, anything really. Duchamp's work paved the way for the concept of art as an idea.
When faced with Martin Creed's work, you shouldn't really worry about whether it's art or not. You don't need to know what the artist is trying to say. All you need is your own response. Does it make you laugh? Does it hit a nerve? Does it spark something in you? Does it make you think? Your response can be visceral too, dependent on how you experience the work. Part of the magic of the light switching on and off was that it forced visitors to feel their own presence in the dark room. It made them participants in the artwork.
A lot of Creed's work is experiential like this. TAKE THE PLUNGE, for example. His loud voice, repeating the phrase over and over again in that strong Scottish accent, almost hammers your ears. That, combined with the visual of seeing his contorted body makes you long for the end. And then the end is just soft and delightful. He's fallible, like all of us. And he makes us laugh.
One of Creed's recent works we love A LOT is Work No: 3071: Peanut butter on toast from 2018.
© Martin Creed
The 'toast' is made of patinated bronze, the peanut butter is gold leaf. He's used the traditional materials of classical sculpture to represent a slice of bread. To have something so ordinary, so pedestrian as this bog-standard breakfast made into a valuable sculpture and put on a pedestal is so irreverent. But then again, we can think of literally nothing nicer than peanut butter on toast, so perhaps it's getting its due reverence. Martin Creed said his inspiration for this work came from the time he once stayed in a Buddhist monastery. The monks would line up for breakfast and devour jars of peanut butter, spreading it thickly on toast. Creed said, "Everything that they’ve given up — greed — or that they were trying to give up, was all in that peanut butter.” Humans being humans.
Creed's work is so diverse. He works with all sorts of media: as well as making videos, he's a musician, he paints, creates installations, uses lights and neon, and makes things. This is one of his most recent paintings:
Work No. 3113: TREES flOWERS seas PLEASE (2018) © Martin Creed
What a lovely painting. Trees, flowers, seas. Please. That would go nicely on the wall at home. It's the way he evokes the landscape with words with those gorgeous colours. The simplicity of the request is almost child-like, but of course all those things are slowly being destroyed with climate change, and so there's something vaguely disconcerting about it.
Creed uses words quite a bit in his work. He puts throw-away phrases and words up in lights, drawing attention to the ritual language we fall back on in certain situations. 'Everything is going to be alright' gets rolled out all the time when we comfort other people.
Work No 790: Everything is going to be alright (2007) © Martin Creed
Lots of phrases get repeated in light installations, like this one, which has been exhibited in various locations around the world including at Tate Modern, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and most recently at Braemar Castle in Scotland in 2018.
Creed is quite an emotional chap, and this comes through in his art. This is perhaps why his work is so relatable. His art is his life, his thoughts and feelings, boiled down to a basic something. Creed once said, 'My world is a soup of thoughts, feelings and things all mixed up together. Working is a way of trying to cope, to separate the soup and escape; to get from the inside out.' Somehow through his art Creed manages to connect us up with those thoughts and feelings, and his work is so powerful because we recognise those thoughts and feelings in ourselves too.