David Shrigley is one of my favourite artists. He stands out from the rest with his deliberately crude, stripped back drawings and dark existential humour. I like weird and I like when people are unashamedly themselves, so if you can then add some humour into the mix then you’ve definitely got me interested in your work. A few years ago I picked up a copy of the Glasgow based artist’s book ‘How Are You Feeling?‘ and was immediately sold on his strange drawings – so when I saw he was hosting an exhibition in the National Gallery Of Victoria while I lived in Melbourne, I knew I had to see his extended works in person.
The ‘Life and Life Drawing‘ exhibition encompassed a variety of different forms and was Shrigley’s first major Australian exhibition. As we wandered around the vast space we were not disappointed. A cartoonish motorised head entitled ‘The Artist’ greeted us as we walked in – skating across a vast sheet of paper and drawing erratic patterns through the medium of two markers shoved up it’s nose. The three walls surrounding this piece displayed identical looking scribbled sheets created the same way. Although goofy and fun, it was also a nod to the ”..increasingly remote role of the artist in the contemporary art schema. Here, a preposterous robotic doppelganger creates the masterpiece.”
The next installation of the exhibition – ‘Untitled Drawings 2004-14’ – consisted of hundreds of wall to floor monochrome drawings fashioning a grid like wallpaper and probably the most concentrated example of Shrigley’s scaled back, unembellished shrewdness.
This was easily my favourite installation of the whole exhibition. You could spend hours in front of that wall – trying to read and take in each simple-to-the-point-of-confusion drawing. There was also a designated ‘napping station’ which took the form of a patchwork quilt and pillow by the bottom of the wall – Shrigley’s hilarious reasoning for this being “I’m being generous to people and acknowledging the fact they might need to have a little kip when they view all these drawings.. They’re quite relentless. Sometimes I wonder whether looking at my work is a bit like being banged on the forehead over and over again.”
The other stand out exhibits were a 400m long coiled sausage made of clay entitled ‘Beginning, Middle and End’, the concept of which was conceived when Shrigley was left with two tonnes of clay and no specific purpose for it – “I like sausages, and I like Germany.. The sausage dies out and it cracks and changes as the show progresses. I called it beginning, middle and end, which is kind of a stupid title but also quite interesting because it’s about narrative, and why everything has to have a narrative. We are all in the midst of our own narrative, really.”
…and the centrepiece of the exhibition – the large ‘Life Model’ – a sculpture of a giant naked man who blinks and urinates into a bucket every few minutes while visitors are invited to draw him and have their efforts added to a large colourful collage which covers the surrounding walls. Shrigley had also hired one of the museum staff to walk around the exhibition carrying a massively oversized black backpack. At first we did not know if this was part of the exhibition or not – but soon found out it was a piece he had commissioned called ‘The Burden’ to flout the gallery’s ‘no backpacks’ rule.
Following the main exhibition we headed into the ‘General Store’ installation/gallery gift shop – which was a specially commissioned piece for the waterwall feature at the museum’s entrance (this waterwall is exactly what you are picturing it to be like – a huge glass wall with water cascading down it. Hugely satisfying to watch!) Shrigley says the ‘General Store’ component of the exhibition
“… blurs the boundary between what’s art and what’s merchandise. Some things will be for sale and some things won’t.” The exterior of the shop was adorned in previous t-shirt collaborations Shrigley had designed over the years, and we found that the disappointing ‘some things will be for sale and some things won’t’ element factored in here – all of them were amazing and unfortunately none of them were for sale.
We got over this fact quickly enough and snapped up some other quirky merchandise exclusively designed by Shrigley for the exhibition instead. My favourite item for sale was an inflatable swan – actual product title ‘ridiculous inflatable swan-thing’ – which had a straight neck rather than a curved one and the most basic, vacant looking face drawn on it. It made me laugh so much.
As Shrigley himself comments on his work ”Your response is the correct response to the work, whatever that may be or whatever my intention was. My intentions are never that plain. It is what it is.”
He doesn’t try too hard, he just draws things as he sees them – ‘It is what it is’ indeed.
David Shrigley is the best.
– Aisling Abbey
Photos by Steve Franco & Aisling Abbey
Pssssst…..We have some exclusive cool David Shrigley Merchandise from the Exhibition to give away! Head over to our Facebook Page for details on how to enter.