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Martin Creed Photo

Martin Creed

British Multimedia Artist and Musician

Born: October 21, 1968 - Wakefield, England
"The only thing I feel like I know is that I want to make things"
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Martin Creed Signature
"I think I want to make things because I want to communicate with people, because I want to be loved, because I want to express myself."
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"[My work is] 50% about what I make and 50% about what other people make of it."
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"I really fear only doing one thing. I feel like I've got to try and work on all fronts, because I don't know which front's the best one. I really fear getting caught in a trap."
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"I want my work, so to speak, to be silly. I want to make things that are stupid and that contrast with that which is around it."
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"I don't know how to be funny. I'm not very good at telling jokes. I try to be true and honest. That's often funny. The truth is often ridiculous."
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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.


  • 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.

Biography of Martin Creed

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.

Important Art by Martin Creed

Progression of Art

Work No.88: A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball

The work comprises a crumpled piece of paper, tightly packed into a ball. It is presented in a cardboard box, surrounded by shredded paper packaging, also designed by Creed.

The piece evokes the possibility and anxiety of a blank page, and perhaps the exasperation of the creative process. It combines the idea of making a mistake or a project not going to plan with the near-perfectly spherical ball. Its presentation within packaging of the same material (paper) points to the potential absurdity of its monetary and conceptual value; using crumpled paper to protect crumpled paper. Nevertheless, the geometric precision of the piece is proof of the craftsmanship it entails. Refuting those who criticized his art or deny its status as such, Creed has commented "The ball of paper are beautifully made... they are crafted objects". It does in fact take considerable skill to produce an entirely spherical shape from a single sheet of paper, perhaps suggesting a relationship to more traditional artistic forms like origami.

There is a "cheekiness" to the piece though, which reflects Creed's antagonistic relationship to capitalist reproduction and consumer culture. Contemporary artist Ann Jones remarks: "this isn't a work to be revered, it's a work to greet with a wry smile". The pieces are available for sale, with Creed stating "People do buy them and I've seen one in someone's house. It was on the mantelpiece", again suggesting an incredulous relationship to the contemporary art market.

A4 paper


Work 200: Half the Air In A Given Space

The instructions for Work 200: Half the Air In A Given Space are as follows: "Calculate the volume of the space. Using air, blow up white 12in balloons until they occupy half the volume of the space. As usual the space should be full of air, but half of it should be inside balloons...". As work that is different each time it is displayed, it has no permanent dimensions or appearance.

The idea of making the everyday strange, or physically representing something that the audience takes for granted (the physical presence of air) is one with a strong relationship to Creed's ongoing practice, as well as echoing work like Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds (1966). It also raises questions of behaviour within the gallery, with there being no set or conventional manner in which to engage with the piece. The art critic Jonathan Jones comments that "in Southampton [UK], the balloon room seemed warm and funny", as families used the exhibit as a play area. He adds "It's not the artwork that matters, but the way it sets up relationships between people. You become a member of an airy commonwealth."

In his music, Creed often sings of the possibility of being crushed by objects - the weight of materialism. This work could be seen as an antidote in that it demands space and lightness. Jones used this work as a metaphor for Creed's practice as a whole, and how to appreciate it: "Martin Creed makes artworks that are as light as air. Despise it, burst the balloon, that's your decision. Laugh with it, dive in the balloons and you'll have more fun."

White balloons


Work No. 227: The lights going on and off

Work No. 227: The lights going on and off comprises an empty room, which is alternately lit for five seconds and in darkness for five seconds - a pattern that repeats ad infinitum. The work uses the existing light fittings and interior space of the gallery it is installed within rather than any external equipment. As such it is created out of the ordinary and everyday mechanisms we interact with, perhaps confounding the viewer's expectations as to the nature of the installation.

Its presence is extremely subtle, and might even be dismissed as a malfunctioning light fitting by those not familiar with the nature of the work. As such, it is left to the viewer to interpret its significance, to consider the piece in relation to the institution in which it is placed, and to the commercial and material relationships exposed by the physical absence of objects.

The use of the existing lighting fixtures within the space responds to Creed's anxiety about creating physical objects as an artist. This is a concern that he also communicates in his songs, in which he speaks of the pressures of a materialist society. Rather than an object, Creed likens Work No. 227: The lights going on and off to a musical score. It is a set of instructions for a performance, rather than a formal and physical installation.

Contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan sees Work No. 227: The lights going on and off, specifically the variation between light and dark, as representative of the periodic changes in mood we all experience: "It has the ability to compress happiness and anxiety within one single gesture. Lights go on, lights go off - sunshine and rain, and then back to beginning to repeat endlessly." For Cattelan, this is a frightening reminder of the human condition.

The freedom to interpret the subtle nature of the work has left it open to parody and ridicule, with several newspapers 'outraged' that it would be considered art at all. The installation led the tabloid newspaper The Sun (owned by conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch) to launch its own parodic version of the Turner Prize, the Turnip Prize.



The phrase "EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT" in large neon letters was designed to fit the length of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's facade, and installed there to mark its 50th anniversary in 2009. The installation has since become part of the Gallery's identity, regularly photographed by visitors and used in publicity shots. Other versions of the work exist, including variants in Times Square in New York and at the Rennie Museum in Vancouver.

The context of the work affects how the phrase is understood by its viewer. In Times Square, it has commercial connotations and evokes the sometimes empty reassurances of marketing, whilst at the Edinburgh museum it is seen more as offering public comfort - particularly effective on long winter nights as it lights up the museum gardens, facing outwards towards the public. Placed against the stern and historically weighted Doric columns of the museum, the work stands out as a modernist intervention amongst otherwise formal architecture, reflecting the housing of a museum of modern art (1900-Present) in a neo-classical building of 1825.

In contrast to its bold appearance, the work invites a contemplative response. It reflects Creed's desire to "communicate and interact" with viewers, who he hopes will take "some excitement or thought or a little experience" from the work. Some critics, including Jonathan Jones, have suggested that the bold presence of the phrase encourages viewers to question its truthfulness, and as such, its sentiment veers "between melancholia and exuberance". In this and in its medium, it is reminiscent of the artist's Turner-winning artwork Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000).

Blue neon - Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art


Work 1105

This work is made up of five thick strokes of dark red acrylic paint, the bottom stroke spanning the width of the canvas and each subsequent stroke reducing in height and width. The overall effect is reminiscent of a stepped pyramid or ziggurat, with the rest of the white ground on the canvas left exposed. Work 1105 is one of a series of paintings in this style, which the artist began in 2006. They were made shortly after the artist's return to painting, after he became disillusioned by the medium in his years as an art student. They do however continue to correspond to Creed's minimalist practice and ambiguous relationship to skill and artistic convention. The paintings resist any representational analysis, echoing the experiential minimalism of painters like Mark Rothko.

The height of the strokes in Work 1105 correspond to the size of each brush in a standard pack of household brushes, demonstrating Creed's reluctance to make choices. He states: "I find it difficult to choose, or to judge, or to decide". Creed has again denied or refused any notion of skill in the production of this image, instead adhering to a set formula of production. The journalist Miranda Sawyer has commented that the ziggurat series of paintings is all about a set of rules, the result determined by the dimensions of the brushes and the canvas. In this sense, the works are "part random, part ordered". This approach has something in common with Work 200: Half the Air In A Given Space (1998) and Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000) inasmuch as the instructions for the work are the same, with a few variable factors such as the space it inhabits.

Acrylic paint on canvas - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom

Work no.1059 (2011)

Work no.1059

This work constitutes Creed's restoration of the Scotsman Steps in Edinburgh. The steps were formerly in a poor state of repair but remained an important historic part of the cityscape. Creed was commissioned by the Fruitmarket Gallery to create a public artwork to change the public's perception of the steps and to bring art into their daily lives. In response to this commission the artist clad each of the 104 steps in a different kind of marble. This was potentially inspired by Italian techniques, as Creed currently lives on Alicudi island near Sicily and Scotland has an enduring history of Italian immigration. The idea follows Creed's 2010 solo exhibition "Down Over Up", which brought together various works inspired by progressions by degree - whether this be size, musical pitch or tone. It took two years of architectural engineering and complex stonework to plan and deliver the installation.

The art critic Jonathan Jones has spoken of the effectiveness of Work no.1059 as a piece that inhabits a space between art and everyday life. He calls the work "a generous, modest masterpiece of contemporary public art", since the subdued beauty of the cladding enriches the experience of using the steps. Like many of his other installation works, the piece is subtle enough that it may not even be recognized as an artwork until pointed out. In Jones' words "This is a model of what public art ought to be: not a pompous statue but a contribution to living in the world". Furthermore, the way the work is experienced in the world is important to Creed - more so than his own experience of it in the studio. Like a score of music that is "re-made" every time it is played, Creed believes the artwork takes on new life each time somebody walks up or down it.


Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Martin Creed
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
Movements & Ideas
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    Katie Paterson
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    Figs in Wigs
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Cardboard Citizens (Theatre Group)
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    Franz Ferdinand
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Martin Creed

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Content compiled and written by Dawn Kanter

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church

"Martin Creed Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Dawn Kanter
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church
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First published on 12 Nov 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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