Color you can taste

Updated: 2014-07-01 07:52

By Timo Chui (China Daily)

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Color you can taste

Ordinary objects have remained the center of Michael Craig-Martin's artworks over the past four decades. Gagosian Gallery

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One of Craig-Martin's most visible achievements, to his chagrin, was mentoring a ragtag group of UK contemporary artists who went on to become known as the Young British Artists.

Contemporary art icons Damien Hirst, Henry Bond, Sam Taylor-Wood and Tracey Emin were among the cabal's membership. Craig-Martin's tutelage of the YBA at Goldsmiths led the British press to dub him the Godfather of Brit Art.

"Today, there are far more young people from China at Goldsmiths. There were students from Japan and Korea in the '80s when there started to be more students from Asian countries. But I know the young Chinese artists are making up a larger share of the student body," Craig-Martin says.

"I was a judge two years ago for the John Moores Prize Exhibition in Shanghai. It was a painting prize. We judged 3,000 submissions from all over China. I thought in general the quality was very high. A lot of the teaching (in China) is very traditional. Some of these people were very skilled, not just in the traditional sense, but the works showed had begun to build on those traditions," he says. "China is a very big country, and I would like to make a very small impact."

Craig-Martin's arrival in China is a sort of home coming for the Dublin-born artist, who claims Chinese lineage as well.

His great-grandmother was Chinese. His grandmother was born in China. His great-grandfather and his brother came to China in the 1860s, and worked as merchants in Wuhan in today's Hubei province.

Then his great-grandfather stayed in the business and his brother joined the Chinese army and became a general, Craig-Martin recalls, citing the story of his great-grand uncle, William Mesny, a mercenary serving the Chinese Imperial Forces rising to major general in 1873 and later given the title Brevet Lieutenant-General, Chinese Army after participating in the Taiping Blockade and having campaigned through northern Vietnam.

Craig-Martin's time in Shanghai will also see him deliver lectures to local art students.

"I was teaching for many years. I taught (the YBA) the exact same way. I believe that everybody has the essence of being an artist," he says. "My role as a teacher was to give permission to be themselves and believe in themselves."

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