If you don't think that you're familiar with David Shrigley's work, you almost certainly need to think again. His disarmingly simple drawings and hilariously dark photographs are on greetings cards everywhere and his books and postcard collections are endlessly popular. This exhibition, however, marks the first major survey of Shrigley's work in the UK and the majority of what's on show has been created especially.
Shrigley’s work has always juxtaposed his unique draughtsmanship style with the bizarre and provocative pieces such as Ostrich (a headless, taxidermied bird) and The Dead and the Dying, a collection of glazed ceramic sculptures possibly showing the aftermath of the rapture.
The Dead and The Dying (2010)
It’s pieces like this that have earned Shrigley his reputation for morbidity, but at no point in the exhibition is the visitor allowed to forget the tongue-in-cheek humour that pervades most of Shrigley’s work. Whether it’s a giant worm encased in a false wall, a supremely mundane shopping list etched on a gravestone, or two stick figures caught in a compromising position on a car bonnet. When questioned about his use of humour Shrigley is pensive, but unequivocal – "My work is humourous," he concedes, "but I’m not a comedian."
New Friends (2010)
Although Shrigley is aware that his work is seen by many as principally amusing, he doesn’t go out of his way to provoke laughter. Indeed his style seems to be motivated by little more than a desire to please himself. He’s diplomatic on the subject of his studies, acknowledging that he wasn’t the best student ("I left art school with a 2:2, which is what you get for turning up"), but quick to affirm that his tutors have been a great source of help over the years. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Shrigley studied Fine Art, as his drawing and painting styles seem so unschooled, but as is the case with most of his work, there’s more than meets the eye to these pieces, just as you sense that there’s more than meets the eye to Shrigley.
He says himself that he’s "not making art to prove anybody wrong, I’m making it because I love doing it" and you can see this in his sheer prolificacy. Shrigley reckons that over his career he’s produced over 7,000 drawings – and that’s not counting the ones that he’s thrown away. "Because I make so much and keep so little I’m not precious about anything," he says, "I keep the good [drawings] and throw the bad ones away." As it is, there are 117 drawings on display as part of Brain Activity that have never been shown in the UK before.
David Shrlgley at the Hayward Gallery.
The exhibition, in Shrigley’s own words, revolves around his own exploration of "economies of narrative", works that say a great deal while appearing relatively simple. There’s Very Large Cup of Tea, a seemingly straightforward work which is exactly what it sounds like, except then when one pauses to consider it becomes immediately apparent that to achieve the exact colour of the tea in the cup Shrigley has put in hours of painstaking work. Asked about the enormous mix of media in the exhibition Shrigley says "My attitude towards making artwork is to fill a space, and certain things [sculpture, animation] seem appropriate for certain spaces." He continues, "I’m showing at the Hayward, which is a massive privilege, but I’d be producing work if I was still working as a gallery attendant."
We’re lucky that Shrigley is the internationally recognised artist that he is, for this is a brilliant exhibition – fun, thought-provoking, dark and silly. Brain Activity is the first major UK exhibition of Shrigley’s work; it won’t be his last.
David Shrigley: Brain Activity is at the Hayward Gallery until 12th May. For tickets click here. To see more of Shrigley's artwork visit his website.
To celebrate David Shrigley's new exhibition at the Hayward gallery, we're giving away three flat copies of the Everything is Good poster that he did for our packs back in 2007. See more info here.