Fresh off the back of shows in Berlin, Paris and Copenhagen, Glaswegian artist David Shrigley is right now enjoying his first major London solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.
Although known for his dark humour and entertaining sketches, David Shrigley’s show highlights another aspect to the artist; a fascination in vision that clearly underpins his prodigious pen work. As its title suggests, Brain Activity is not just about looking at the peculiar and special moments the artist has collected for us, but looking for them – spot the ‘look at this’ sign when you’re there. Yet the result is more than just conceptual gesturing, Shrigley clearly understands that thinking is best done with a smile on your face. Posing interesting and amusing questions about what we’re even doing in an art space, the show thus achieves the rare combination of being both delightful and provocative, combining animation, drawing and sculpture with an energy that’s tangible.
i-D online caught up with Shrigley to talk art, tattoos and the brain.
Your work is famous for its sharp and discerning wit. How does this translate to a space such as the Hayward? I guess the Hayward is just like any other space. It just needs to be filled up with stuff and that’s what I’ve done.
Do you think work in these spaces can still be political? An art gallery is perhaps not the best place to make a political statement since not so many people will get to see it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make political work and show it at the Hayward Gallery, it’s just that I think whatever political message one is making is tempered by the fact that people have to pay £10 to experience it.
What about Britishness, is this important to you in such an international art world? I’m not really interested in being defined as British. People say that I have a British sense of humour but it isn’t something I’m aware of having. It’s very difficult to see yourself as others see you.
You’re predominantly known for drawing. How do your sculptures work off of this reputation? Sculpture is a very different process from drawing but I think of my work as being the same whatever medium I work in. People seem to respond better to the drawing but I’m not really bothered about that. I like making sculpture.
What does your studio look like? A bit of a mess.
Paul Pieroni at an ICA talk recently suggested that office doodles are the new folk art. Would you agree? Where does your work sit in relation to this – the turning point of a doodle into a creative act? Do you think of an idea before you draw or does the idea emerge naturally from the drawing? The way that I work is perhaps an evolved form of doodling. I start with a blank sheet of paper and an open mind. I suppose folk art is art by people who didn’t go to art school. So perhaps doodles could be considered folk art, unless they are done by me of course.
Your website has a section devoted to pictures of people who have tattooed your images on themselves. One of whom (Ryan Hope) made the documentary film Skin. How does it make you feel that people want to wear your art work forever? What does it mean to translate this on to skin? And how does it affect the value or intention? The whole tattoo thing started by accident: someone asked me to design a tattoo for them and then suddenly I became this artist who designed tattoos. In reality I don’t like tattoos and the fact that people want me to design them makes me feel weird. But I think my attitude to designing tattoos perhaps adds something of interest to that idiom; in that I make all the tattoo designs immediately on the subject without any planning. I think I need to stop doing it though because it’s just too strange.
What are you working on next? I’m making a new book that will be published in the autumn. It is about the human brain.
Text: Harry Burke