David Shrigley: art, anarchy and acerbic fun

David Shrigley: art, anarchy and acerbic fun

Speaking of his work, Shrigley believes you have to make art to satisfy yourself. This way, he’s certain at least “one person’s gonna like it”.

His artworks are indeed enormously popular however, speaking to universal themes and dark humour that seems perfectly matched to the current social and political climate.

So, who is David Shrigley? Today, we introduce this outstandingly creative artist and discuss the inspiration behind his art…

Who is David Shrigley?

“197cm tall. Artist. Likes pens, rulers, etc.” – David Shrigley.

David Shrigley grew-up in Oadby near Leicester and rose to artistic recognition in the mid-1990s.

Having studied Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art, his career started in the world of advertising. The artist later created his own black-line illustrations, publishing his drawings in a series of books.

These illustrations captured the public’s imagination and garnered a cult following amongst the YBAs and even a cover of Frieze magazine. The artist subsequently held several international exhibitions (at leading institutions across Berlin, Copenhagen, New York, Paris and London’s Hayward Gallery) which further led to his nomination for the Turner Prize in 2013.

David Shrigley’s funny and futile drawings seemed to strike a chord with the public and art gallery aficionados alike – remaining with the cultural zeitgeist ever since.

Perhaps his darkly amusing artwork provides a much needed antidote to daily life, or perhaps it just makes us laugh. Whatever the case, David Shrigley’s work needs little explanation.

Art for the internet age?

“Don’t be afraid of failure… do something different.” – David Shrigley.

David Shrigley makes full use of social media for his art. Originally used to promote his books, Instagram and Twitter have become a principal creative outlet.

Speaking of the art and publishing world, Shrigley has welcomed this digital democratisation and its ability to reverse traditional power structures. Whilst large galleries and publishing houses previously functioned as gatekeepers, social media has become what the artist describes as a “more important form of publishing, in a way.”

Indeed, deadpan self-deprecating humour has become the watchword of internet culture, particularly expressed through memes and witty twitter one-liners. It’s a world perfectly matched to David Shrigley’s style.

He describes his work as delivering “messages that arrive de-contextualised” in the same manner that tweets and Instagram posts are viewed in a virtual vacuum. It’s up to the viewer to “re-contextualise” the artworks in any way they see fit…

With this in mind, David Shrigley is fascinated by the changing reactions to his art depending on the context. This depends on whether his art is framed in a gallery, daubed on a wall, printed on a postcard or T-Shirt – or even sitting atop Trafalgar Square’s “Fourth Plinth” as was the case for Really Good (a seven-metre high bronze sculpture of an elongated thumbs-up).

Today, David Shrigley’s work also sits proudly alongside classic masterpieces of art history, in galleries such as New York’s MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, London’s Tate Modern and Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

What inspires David Shrigley?

“The ghost of Marcel Duchamp taught me to play chess. That would be cool.” – David Shrigley

As a child, David Shrigley loved record sleeves and comic books. It was a trip to London with his father in 1982 that sparked his interest in “high art” however. This was a visit to Tate Britain, where the work of the absurdist Dada artist Jean Tinguely particularly inspired the young man.

The artist has also spoken of his early infatuation with works such as René Magritte’s iconic Treachery of Images, better known as “Ceci n'est pas une pipe”. Indeed, David Shrigley described the painting as an astounding “illustration of the slippage between language and image”.

He has also labelled Marcel Duchamp as a “kind of god, or a touchstone”. In fact, when asked which ghost of a famous artist he’d like to haunt him over a bank holiday weekend (a classically off-the-wall Shrigley topic), David Shrigley chose Duchamp. He commented “if Duchamp wasn’t available then Andy Warhol, but Duchamp would be my first choice.”

Mixed media and Mayfair exchanges

“I see rubbish and they see genius.” – David Shrigley

When displayed together, David Shrigley’s drawings create a strange impression of fragmented dialogue – bombarding the viewer with humorous ambiguity. The mixture of colourful, stripped-back drawings with minimal text is something we can all access, understand and relate to in our own way.

It’s this deceptive simplicity that underpins David Shrigley’s uncanny ability to engage audiences of all kinds, all over the world.

David Shrigley hasn’t just produced drawings over his career, however. The artist has opened pop-up tattoo parlours, invented strangely shaped instruments, pulped over 5,000 copies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (in order to re-print George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four!) and even invited the public to draw a urinating sculpture as part of his Turner Prize show.

He partnered with the luxury champagne brand Ruinart in 2008, creating a series of “Unconventional Bubbles” drawings which led to an augmented-reality installation at Art Basel on Miami Beach. In typical David Shrigley style, the artist’s comedic inappropriateness wasn’t toned-down for the historic Champagne house, with drawings warning customers to “keep your filthy hands off our grapes!”

Maintaining his experimentation with mixed-media, in 2021 David Shrigley launched the “Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange” at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. Here, members of the public could swap pristine tennis balls for their own worn-out, dog-chewed versions. Reflecting ideas surrounding trade, currency and audience participation in art, it brought Shrigley’s unique humour into the heart of London’s elite Mayfair.

Despite these intriguing artistic experiments, David Shrigley also describes drawing as his life’s project – a process that will “never end until I’m gone”.

The Artmarket Gallery is proud to display a unique collection of David Shrigley prints. Contact our expert team to discuss buying or selling David Shrigley art, or pay a visit to our gallery in the beautiful village of Cottingham, East Yorkshire.
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