Box with Four Rounded Corners is one of a series of studies for the sculpture Formica Box, 1968, (formica on plywood, 121.9 by 121.9 by 61cm), which Michael Craig-Martin made two years after he had graduated from Yale University and moved back to Britain from the United States. Many similar drawings and their related sculptures were exhibited at Craig-Martin’s first solo exhibition at the influential Rowan Gallery in 1969 and it was from this exhibition that the Tate Gallery acquired Four Identical Boxes with Lids Reversed, 1969 and the associated drawing.
In Formica Box, 1968, Craig-Martin took the inward folding form of an envelope and translated it into a three-dimensional, hinged box, which could be displayed in a number of different configurations. Having recently studied in the United States, this work clearly referred to American minimalist art of the period, notably the sequential sculptures of Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Sol Le Witt. In contrast to the otherworldly perfection found in the work of these artists, Craig-Martin’s formica clad sculpture was more prosaic, with a visual wit closer in sensibility to the work of another American artist, Richard Artschwager. By engineering ‘finger holes’ in the sculpture, Craig-Martin reminded the viewer of the object’s potential for movement and the necessity of human engagement with the work in order for it to be fully experienced:
‘My boxes needed to be opened and closed - the viewer was encouraged to touch them. From the beginning I sought to make the relation of the viewer to the object self-consciously active’ 1
‘The box was also by nature down to earth, utilitarian, familiar, ordinary. It was exactly these characteristics which I wished to examine in terms of real-scale, non-referential objects.’ 2
The drawings from this series themselves have a sculptural sensibility, here Craig-Martin has used tape, rather than drawing media, to delineate the edges of the forms and his use of isometric plotting paper foregrounds that this is a proposal for an object. The aesthetic simplicity of the image and the spatial arrangement of three similar motifs in one composition, prefigure the line drawings of household objects which Craig-Martin began in the 1980s and for which he is now best known. Over the past thirty years he has created his own ‘dictionary of drawings’, honing a single line drawing to represent each category of man-made object - phone, umbrella, shoe, fork - which he employs over and over again in different works of art.
1 Michael Craig-Martin in conversation with Katja Blomberg, Michael Craig Martin and Raymond Pettibon exhibition catalogue, Verlag de Kunstvereins fur die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Dusseldorf, p15
2 Michael Craig-Martin quoted in The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970, p79