David Shrigley

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David Shrigley

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 29, 2012 3:11 am

David Shrigley: one of the cleverest, funniest conceptual artists

Cartoon or work of art? From his stuffed animals to slogan teatowels, Shrigley's work is simple but profound

Nicholas Lezard

guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 January 2012 21.54 GMT


'A Shrigley drawing that does not make us laugh makes us do something else – think.' Photograph: Courtesy of the artist. © David Shrigley

It's the image everyone knows best – so well known that we're not even going to use it as an illustration here: a Jack Russell, stuffed, standing up, holding in its paws a sign saying "I'm dead". There is also a version in which the stuffed animal is a cat.

Several things strike one when looking at this. The first reaction – I've tried this out on a few people who have somehow managed not to see the image yet – is laughter: a short, shocked laugh that suddenly evaporates, like a drop of water on a hot shovel, as the work's various contradictions and ambiguities align and realign themselves within your consciousness.

First, you notice the audacity. It's a work of what seems like blinding obviousness. But in attributing the ability to express a condition to something that is manifestly unable to do so, Shrigley is having a go at the infantilising anthropomorphism currently sloshing around daily culture: the coffee cup which has "Careful – I'm hot!" printed on it; or, as I saw recently on a tourist double-decker the other day, "Sorry – I'm not in service". But there's more.

What the work is inviting us to do is, literally, to laugh at death – for that is what you are seeing: almost all you are seeing. But not all, for a living hand arranged the body, wrote on the sign, and stuck the sign in the paws. There is life there, but a cruel kind of life, the kind that is rumoured to make sport of the corpses in the back rooms of undertakers, that (at its most innocent) makes the bodies of the dead assume unnatural positions, or look as though they're doing silly things. But there's still more, yet another flip side: he may be making the animals do things they were incapable of when alive, but they're doing things that cartoon animals have no problem doing and, moreover, the truth they are proclaiming can't be gainsaid. That animal is dead, after all, just as its placard proclaims.

The more one thinks about it the more eloquent a statement about death it seems. For all its ambiguities, sparked off from the simplest of elements and generating a surprisingly rich and accessible range of interpretations, there is, just as one may say about death, no let-out, in the end. It makes Damien Hirst's works of taxidermy, with their endless titles, almost look as though, in comparison, they are evading the issue. (There's a Shrigley cartoon in which a father and son are looking at one of Hirst's flyblown heads in a perspex box. "It's bloody brilliant, son, that's what it is," says a speech balloon, and – as Shrigley has used the same joke in a short film urging us, and governments, to support the arts – you suspect that he really does think it's brilliant.)

Yet one of the most curious things about Shrigley's works of taxidermy is that somehow – and I have not got close up enough to one to see if any trickery has been used, but I would guess not – these animals' faces look, uncannily, as though they have been drawn by David Shrigley. The expression, the unsettlingly expressive blankness characteristic of his cartoon figures' pupil-less eyes, is Shrigleyan. They have become subsumed into his world. Now, that really is clever.

In one of his introductions to Shrigley's collections, Will Self wrote that, once you've looked at enough of his drawings – he gives a figure of a hundred – "there is no plane of reality other than that described by Shrigley." It's a good point, and a testament to Shrigley's genius, which is not a word I use lightly.

On first encountering a Shrigley drawing, one is of course immediately aware that we are in a realm of artistic fluidity. You might even experience, before it's sunk in, a spurt of outrage that anything like this can earn any claim to our attention. And then you might ask: are we looking at a cartoon, or a work of art? Surely something so rudimentary cannot be art? But then you can't really say they're cartoons either, or not with complete confidence. A cartoon that does not make us laugh can be said to have failed; a Shrigley drawing that does not make us laugh makes us do something else – think, probably. This already puts it in the premier league of conceptual art, which, too much of the time, makes us only think darkly about Arts Council funding, or the limits of human gullibility.

And yet by adopting the aesthetic of the disturbed adolescent who can't draw particularly well, or the disturbed man in a pub toilet with a pen, a blank surface to draw on and a bit of time on his hands, Shrigley sneaks profundity in under the radar. He is adept at blurring boundaries, as everyone who thinks about him notices: "naive/sophisticated; whole/part; framed/unconstrained; to scale/in perspective; naturalism/fantasy" (Self again). To which one can add, among other things: funny/not funny.

He also, in his sculpture, make us wonder whether we are in fact seeing a sculpture or a three-dimensional cartoon. One of my favourites is a cardboard box, placed on some cleared and derelict urban space, perhaps an old bombsite, in what looks like Glasgow. There is a rectangular door-shaped hole cut in the box – which itself looks as though it is roughly four feet across and two feet high, maybe less. Above it are written the words "LEISURE CENTRE". Now, everyone who sees this laughs; and the more you think about it, the richer that laughter is. For something that looks as though it took half a second to dream up, and maybe 60 seconds to execute, this is quite an achievement.

But the slapdash nature of Shrigley's work is deceptive. Winningly happy to talk about his work and his creative methods, he is emphatic about not making too many bold claims. About his libretto for an opera, staged last year, Pass the Spoon, a bizarre story involving a spoon, a fork, a banana, a manic-depressive egg and the sinister Mr Granules (why, incidentally, is that such a great name?), he said: "I suppose that these characters and these events that I've imagined will come from the same place as all the other crap I've produced ... To be honest with you, the only thing I'm really qualified to do is to make the poster." And yet he puts the work in – he spends eight hours a day drawing.

Here are the words I removed to create the ellipsis in the quote above: "they will be recognisable, and I think you will see my hand in it". Sandwiched between two very self-deprecating statements – can you imagine any other artist saying anything like that? – is the acknowledgement of an artist who knows what he's doing, and what he's about. Even when he's not producing art/cartoons, or cartoon/sculptures, he can do something Shrigleyesque. Looking at his work makes us wonder about style, or what it is about an artist's vision that makes it recognisable; how you can see the artist's hand in it.

For an entertaining half-hour, you could do worse than type the words "David Shrigley" into Google and then click on "images". You will get – for Shrigley would appear to be generous with his talent, and would probably knock something out for you if you asked nicely enough – at least 11 pages of cartoons (or whatever they are). "SORRY I PAINTED THE WORD TWAT ON YOUR GARAGE DOOR" is the entire text of one of his image-less drawings (or whatever you want to call them); "PLEASE EXCUSE THE TERRIBLE INJUSTICE" (and in much smaller capitals, below: "THANK-YOU") is that of another. What is it that makes us accept that one sensibility alone produced both of these? What is the place in Shrigley's head to which he alludes that produces this "crap"?

"Our favourite exponent of contemporary outsider art", was how Esquire magazine described him last year, but it is not exactly outsider art (which tends to involve some kind of pity, or condescension, on the part of the viewer). This is, in fact, almost completely wrong: the thing about Shrigley is that he produces insider art: manifestations and expressions of an interior weirdness to which he grants us access, and which we can, at some inarticulate but immediate level, identify with and understand. In the vile and unending struggle against futility, shame and violence, you gather pretty quickly that Shrigley is on your side. It is not an idle exercise. One of the images that will come up in your Google search is what I gather is a tea-towel with these words on it: "TELL ME WHEN I AM NO LONGER NEEDED AND I SHALL GO". To which one can only reply: you're still needed. Do please stick around.

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Re: David Shrigley

Post  eddie on Sun Feb 05, 2012 5:51 pm

David Shrigley: Brain Activity – review

Hayward Gallery, London

Laura Cumming

The Observer, Sunday 5 February 2012


Visual pun: Shrigley's headless squirrel is entitled Nutless. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

The show of David Shrigley's cartoons, paintings, hand-drawn films and tragicomic critters now filling the top floor of the Hayward Gallery has been jammed ever since it opened. Shrigley deserves his immense popularity. For almost 20 years he has produced a ceaseless stream of ideas, observations, jokes and strange insights in the form of left-field drawings that have appeared in broadsheet newspapers, books and magazines as well as galleries. Deadpan, escapist and distinctively cack-handed, they make up a little world in themselves.

A box lies open: I Am Your Pizza announces the pie inside, sinister in its ingratiation. A badly drawn man twitches in his sleep, eyelids like hyphens, the nervous lines of the bedclothes eloquent of his nightmares. A hand shakes a dice, over and over in sequential frames, throwing one every time until infuriated by the ludicrous improbability imposed by art. But the hand cannot stop, trapped as it is in Shrigley's drawings.

These drawings are immediately recognisable: crummy, gauche, all boneless limbs, knob heads, crossings-out and ink blots. The handwriting, when it appears, leans backwards. If Shrigley drew any better than this, his humour would be compromised. You have to think there is some weird nerd out there drawing this stuff and that it is not quite Shrigley. It is a kind of visual ventriloquism.

And it is abetted by the actual use of words, of course, most famously in his taxidermied dog, entitled I'm Dead. This Jack Russell cannot talk, so it holds up the placard that speaks for it, and what does the placard say? That this dog is well past talking.

Over the years Shrigley has found all sorts of ways to crack these deadpan jokes, releasing a little philosophy in the process. Sometimes it is done by tautology. "Hanging Sign," says the hanging sign (and isn't that how we often put it: the sign says this, the hoarding says that, a solecism that is expressive in itself, for what exactly is the relationship between the medium and the message?) Sometimes it is done through cognitive dissonance – the ostrich has no head on its long neck (perhaps lost in the sand?) – or simple bathos: "Now that you have torn my heart out, you must wash your hands."

I particularly liked the animation called Conveyor Belt, in which various objects appear on the eponymous belt in imitation of The Generation Game, where contestants were awarded as many as they could remember. Along comes a hat stand, a teapot, a huge diamond and then suddenly four stick people, all of them rocking precariously as they pass before your eyes as if they weren't self-evidently drawings and not people. Shrigley's sight gags are as good as his verbal-visual humour.

That is most apparent in sculptures such as Boots. Black, shiny and misshapen, these boots weren't made for walking. They stump down the staircase in their lumpen way, bulbous, sneaky, with multiple personalities, invoking comedy boots from Disney and the Beano to Steve Bell and Axel Scheffler. (And made of concrete, Mafia-fashion).

They are very funny on a simple visual level, but there is an underlying conceit, which is the leap from two to three dimensions. This is what the boots of a cartoon pirate might look like if they came alive; and this is what drawings might look like when turned into full-bodied sculpture.

So there are thoughts to be had and jokes to be relished. Sometimes a sculpture will operate as a pun. A stuffed squirrel holding its own head: Nutless. A set of ribs that meets in the middle: Cage. The headless drummer bashing away at his high-hat – is he lost in music, mindless, a decapitated slave to the rhythm? It is a very free experience, Shrigley's show, because you end up making your own stories and captions and this is patently encouraged.

Some of the jokes fall flat, while others repeat a trope. The wall paintings are hopeless: tiny ideas vastly overinflated; in general, the longer Shrigley's films, the less they succeed. But the ratio of hits to duds is very high, and the show is expertly installed, with a very mordant final room and an accompanying catalogue featuring a droll dialogue between the artist and the author Dave Eggers.

That last room takes life (and afterlife) right down to the nub. Here is a bell accompanied by a notice warning that it cannot be rung until Jesus returns. (Who says: whose disembodied voice is this, laying down the law and just asking to be disobeyed in a rerun of Eden?) Here is a tombstone engraved with a shopping list. Whose life can this possibly represent – whose life can any epitaph on a grave ever represent? – this little catalogue of daily bread and tomatoes?

Shrigley's art is dark, but it is also mirthful and high-spirited. Take your children. They will enjoy the pretty sunray made out of swords and daggers without asking if it has some vile connotation; they will like the lexicon of images painted like a children's primer. Goodbye, says the skeleton; I eat worms, says the pretty bird. If you can call it a bird, and not an image; ah, that old visual paradox.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe, visitors may be thinking early on, when confronted by a door-shaped painting of a door with the word "Door" lettered clumsily across it. And sure enough, right at the end of the show Magritte's pipe itself makes an appearance (so to speak). Shrigley's caption to this caricature of a pipe is entirely characteristic. "This Is Nothing", he writes, modestly acknowledging his master, while smuggling in a bittersweet pun.

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Re: David Shrigley

Post  eddie on Sun Feb 05, 2012 5:56 pm


David Shrigley.

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Re: David Shrigley

Post  eddie on Sun Feb 05, 2012 5:57 pm


Very Wrong. Very Bad- DS.

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Re: David Shrigley

Post  eddie on Sun Feb 05, 2012 6:01 pm

David Shrigley's cartoon capers

David Shrigley's new show is appalling, abysmal and painfully dire. But Adrian Searle likes his work so much he got it tattooed on his belly

Adrian Searle

guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 January 2012 21.46 GMT


David Shrigley's exhibition at Hayward Gallery, London. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

A man is asleep. His little hands grasp at the blanket as he utters all those little noises and mumblings that make the human animal so endearing, so deeply annoying. Dreams and emotions cross his face, drawn there, then erased. This is not Warhol's famous movie Sleep, but a looped animation by David Shrigley with the same title. The drawing has great economy, a cack-handed eloquence. I wait for the man to wake or die or scream, or for the blanket to betray some involuntary erotic protrusion. It doesn't.

Shrigley's art now fills the top floor of the Hayward Gallery in London for his new show, Brain Activity, which opens tomorrow. Drawings, sculptures, animations and photographs – I go from room to room constantly seeking out the next excruciating gag. But does his art last? Is it funny the second time round, beyond the spark and the laugh?


Adrian Searle displays his tattoo by artist David Shrigley. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I own a Shrigley and I look at it several times a day. I keep it with me always – and often flash it at people. It's a tattoo. The artist drew it on my body at the Frieze Art Fair a couple of years ago, and I had it made permanent. "Writing," it says, in Shrigley's wonky script. It's written on the body, on the stomach, to be precise. If ever I'm lost in a daydream, I give it a glance to remind myself what I am supposed to be doing at my desk. Writing.

There's more to Shrigley than his knowing nods to high art, although his 194cm-tall bronze finger looks a bit like a late Giacometti or Brancusi's Bird in Space (well, it's tall, thin and made of bronze, at any rate). And there's a drawn outline of a curly stemmed pipe with the inscription This Is Nothing; Magritte's famous pipe, on the other hand, was annotated with the words This Is Not a Pipe. A song on the 7in vinyl disc that comes with Shrigley's excellent exhibition catalogue has a man yelling: "Get out of my house." It bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Nauman's sound piece Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room. The Nauman, you might argue, isn't as danceable. One can go on and on with the art references, from Munch to Martin Creed.

Shrigley's bleak, black humour and sophisticated grimness make you wonder about the mind that made this work – crazy guy, crazy art, you think. But Shrigley in person is mild, polite, ostensibly English, though he has worked in Glasgow since studying there two decades ago. Yet much of what he does gives the impression of having been produced by a madman sequestered away in a locked ward, sending out messages under the door.

What this exhibition misses out on – unlike Shrigley's books of drawings and photographs – is the relentlessness of his art. He produces thousands and thousands of drawings, most of which fail his scrupulous quality checks. What counts for quality in his work is actually the appalling, the abysmal, the painfully dire. When he starts making highly crafted objects, I like his work somewhat less. The giant ceramic cup and saucer, filled with gallons of fresh tea each day, feels laboured to me. The stuffed ostrich with no head? No. The fishing waders filled with expanded polyurethane foam – standing up on their own, drooling solidified goo, and called (inexplicably) Cheers – work rather better, but don't ask me how.

Little stick people screwing on a real car bonnet? No. And rearing up behind this is a giant and very characterful wall drawing of a man, the body parts all inappropriately labelled; meanwhile, the pink thing I spy through a small hole drilled in the gallery wall is fun, whatever it is. I shan't spoil it for you.

Shrigley's work is very wrong and very bad in all sorts of ways. It is also ubiquitous and compelling. There are lots of artists who, furrowing their brows and trying to convince us of their seriousness, aren't half as profound or compelling (I can provide a list, on receipt of a postal order). His work is a kind of corrective, a dissection of the human condition. He would have had Beckett in tears; and that Austrian master of miserabilism, the writer Thomas Bernhard, might even have cracked a smile.

It doesn't much matter if Shrigley is or isn't a Big Heavyweight Artist. He's brilliant anyway. I keep thinking he could have made a less polite exhibition. I wanted more stuff and less art, something that would delay me longer. But his work isn't really lip-pursing or ruminative. We look, we wince or laugh, and we move on – in life as well as in art.

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