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Turner Winner Creed Ignores Jokes, Rings in Olympics

Martin Creed
Martin Creed, winner of the 2001 Turner Prize. The 43-year-old is inviting everyone in the U.K. to ring a bell on July 27, the opening morning of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photographer: Hugo Glendinning/Martin Creed via Bloomberg

Martin Creed rings the buzzer of his East London studio, a cramped space above a curry house on bustling Brick Lane.

The 43-year-old artist -- winner of the U.K.’s 2001 Turner Prize -- is inviting everyone in Britain to sound a bell, any bell, on the opening morning of the London 2012 Olympic Games. As there are none in his studio, he gamely demonstrates with the downstairs doorbell.

“When I was a kid, I remember the local church sometimes ringing its bells in a crazy cacophonous way when there was a wedding,” says Creed in a Glasgow accent, his sentences ending on a high note. “I always thought it was a very beautiful and exciting sound.”

“So I thought, to try to ring all of the bells in the whole country would be a nice thing to do on this special occasion of the Olympics,” he says.

Creed makes art with the banal: crumpled paper, a light switch, runners sprinting by. He likes his practice to be tentative, from the gut. He’s currently showing a work a month over 12 months at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. March was nine cardboard boxes; May was a row of nails.

Solo Album

In his packed studio, two assistants stand painting the vinyl sleeves of part-time-rocker Creed’s new solo album “Love to You” (which is bookended by tracks titled “Ooh” and “Aah”). Walls are dotted with mini-canvases like the ones Hauser & Wirth had on sale in its 2011 Creed show.

“Better sort my hair out,” he says, running fingers through tousled curls. He wriggles out of a sweater with an underarm rip, and sits before the camera in a striped brown turtleneck.

Is the three-minute bell-ringing at 8:12 a.m. on July 27 art? “It’s certainly as much art as anything else is,” says Creed. “I don’t know what art means, because I think it’s a magic thing. If you find something is beautiful, it’s very difficult to know why it’s beautiful.”

“I just try to do things that make my life better, exciting and pleasurable,” he says.

Creed is “hurt” by a U.K. bell-ringers’ group slamming his purely voluntary initiative for its timing and duration. I ask how an artist who calls himself “provocative” can be so easily hurt. Surely people routinely dismiss his work as silly?

“If they said it was silly, I might not get so upset because silliness is not necessarily a bad thing,” Creed says. “But if someone just said it was rubbish and I was a, whatever they call me, I do get very hurt.”

Creative Genes

Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, Martin moved to Glasgow as a boy. His silversmith dad -- who now does architectural ironwork -- created a ciborium (vessel) for Pope John Paul II’s 1982 visit to Glasgow, and is also a musician, as is his grandmother.

Creed grew up going to galleries and concerts, and regarding art and music as “the highest things you could do.” After contemplating music, architecture and psychology studies, he enrolled at London’s Slade School of Fine Art.

His 2001 Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain was a gallery room with lights going on and off. Seven years later, he sent a team of sprinters through Tate Britain every 30 seconds.

Creed’s “art heroes” are Picasso, whose creations “can be quite shocking and difficult, almost ugly,” and Warhol, whose work “makes me laugh.” He’s particularly entertained by “the films of people sleeping” and the Brillo box sculptures.

His new thing: “blind” paintings done without looking at the hand. I come across a color copy of one; the fudged features of a woman’s face are vaguely recognizable. A group of these will be in the Chicago show.

“I have a tendency to try to control things, because I’m scared of the unknown,” he says. “Then I end up killing them, and I don’t like that.”

Creed doesn’t know what bell he’ll ring -- maybe a bike bell, though his bike has no bell. It doesn’t worry him.

“I don’t like deciding what I’m going to do,” he says.

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on dining.

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