In the Seventies, he was a kingpin of conceptual art, the man who turned a glass of water into An Oak Tree simply by stating he had done so. In the Eighties, he was responsible for fostering the talent of the Young British Artists (YBAs) as their tutor at Goldsmiths. His recent works – which abstract everyday items into outline drawings filled in with eye-popping candy colours – have been the subject of major exhibitions as well as appearing large-scale in site-specific spots, on the sides of buildings, train stations and over whole gallery walls. Our cover artist, Michael Craig-Martin, may have recently turned 70 – but he shows no sign of slowing down.
"I've never been so busy," he says. "I try to do things that are very fresh and simple. People say they look like they were done by someone younger than me, but there's a lifetime of experience behind these simple things."
Craig-Martin insists his lifetime's work shows a continuity. He may have moved from placing real-life, everyday objects on a pedestal to painting them – his recurring motifs are quotidian: umbrellas, mobile phones, buckets – but Craig-Martin says he's "trying to find some kind of essence in all of these things. That's why my paintings exist in this funny world, somewhere between a particular object and an iconic version of it".
Recently, a new element has been creeping in, however: words. Independent Magazine readers have a chance to buy a print of one of Craig-Martin's latest pieces, Love/Glove, which is part of his series of 'rhyme paintings'. Leaning against the walls of his north London studio are various others: an outline of a shirt is over-blazoned with the word 'Flirt', while 'Work' riffs off an image of a fork.
"I'm rhyming a word with an image – so there are two things represented," he explains. "The rhyming determines the connections you can make, creates an unexpected conjunction. The conjunction of 'Love' and 'Glove' has very strange implications... one doesn't quite know what they are, there's room for some interpretative manoeuvres. And that speculative manoeuvring is one of the best things about any work of art."
Those words are put on canvas the same way as his drawings, using a flexible masking tape to give clear, repeatable outlines. It's a technique he's been using for more than 40 years: "They're not cartoons; they're very precise drawings, properly proportioned. I'm trying to find a simple but proper description. Then with the colour, I do the opposite. I allow it a completely full rein. It's not naturalistic, it doesn't follow any formula – it's instinctive and subconscious."
Perhaps it's this combining of the rigorously technical with the freewheelingly personal that also made Craig-Martin such an influential teacher. Dubbed the 'Godfather of the YBAs', during his time at Goldsmiths he oversaw undergraduates including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas... "There was a large group which had an enormous impact; they were all part of a whole new venture that was bigger than any one of them," he suggests.
Although Craig-Martin hasn't taught for over a decade, he is outspoken about how important a good education is: "If you want to teach technical things, you can do that in a class, but for people to be creative they have to learn about their own creativity, and the only way they can do that is one-on-one. You now have vast numbers of kids who get one tutorial a term; when I was at Goldsmiths they had any number they wanted a week. [That generation] got fabulous educations, and so they went on to do good things – but it wasn't a coincidence. And it wasn't just to do with me: the whole system was extraordinarily generous."
Although charmingly polite, Craig-Martin gets somewhat riled at the charging of exorbitant fees for higher education – "which has and will continue to 100 per cent alter the nature of education in Britain". He's gloomy, too, about just what kind of artists will emerge from a system built on the twin pillars of value-for-money and constant assessment. "Kids today don't get the same quality of education. So I find it difficult to believe that the quality of work [being produced] can be sustained."
When it comes to his own future, Craig-Martin's outlook is considerably more rosy. His work keeps him busy and he graciously acknowledges that he's in a very fortunate position. "It's the greatest privilege in the world to be able to keep going. Also, when you get to my age, you relax about a lot of things that made you feel nervous when you were younger – it's a bit late to worry," he concludes, with a knowing twinkle.
Buy an exclusive edition of Love/Glove (2011) by Michael Craig-Martin
The Independent Magazine has secured 20 copies of Love/Glove (2011) by Michael Craig-Martin exclusively for readers at the guaranteed launch price of £450 (normal price £550). The edition, which has been specially commissioned by Counter Editions, is a six-colour screen print on 410gsm Somerset Satin paper.
Produced in a strictly limited edition of 150 by Coriander Studio, London, the print measures 72.4 x 66.2cm, and is signed, numbered, and dated by the artist on the front. They are also available framed (£640) in a white spray frame. The edition is offered on a first-come first-served basis from today, 8 October.
To buy Love/Glove (2011), log on to countereditions.com/independent and enter your special Independent readers' code INDMCM20 at the checkout. Delivery within the UK and VAT are included in the price. Alternatively, you can order by calling Counter Editions on 020-7684 8888, Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Delivery is by UPS courier and is within 10 working days for unframed prints, and 28 days for framed.
For full terms and conditions about this offer, see the Counter Editions website, telephone 020-7684 8888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.