David Shrigley’s art is infused with a dark, dry humour that highlights the absurdity of our everyday fears and aspirations. He makes sculptures, videos, performs ‘public interventions’, which he then photographs, and produces books. He is, however, best known for his drawings, which, with their deliberately crude, childlike quality are instantly identifiable as his own. They are exhibited or published unaltered, in the way that Shrigley first creates them (he never draws anything twice) and so they often feature scribbled-out parts and misspelt words. As well as being shown in art galleries, his drawings have appeared in a number of popular formats in magazines or on T-shirts, record covers and greetings cards.
Words play an important role across Shrigley’s work. He is interested in how we interpret text and image together, especially when they are combined in witty or conflicting ways. Untitled (Crap) (2007) is typical of many works that satirise the conventions of the contemporary art world, which he knows only too well he is part of. But it may also refer to the kind of public art or sculpture that is often dumped in public places without thought or care. His studies at the Glasgow School of Art emphasised the importance of context in public art, and some of his early works are astute comments on poor examples of our urban environment. Really Good, his sculpture of a hand with its disproportionately large thumb in a ‘thumbs up’ position, will go on display on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in 2016.
Shrigley’s wry humour extends to his sculptural works including his use of taxidermy. In I’m Dead (2010), a stuffed dog stands on its hind legs holding a sign declaring that it is dead. The artist is interested in the use of signs and public notices as a way of disconcerting the public. Despite the comic nature of many of his works, they are frequently underpinned by a darker theme. Shrigley may be poking fun at the way that museums display stuffed animals as though they were alive, or perhaps referring to protestors who carry placards as a way of publicly displaying messages of discontent. Like many of Shrigley’s works, at its heart, it presents us with a simple and striking moral conundrum: whether we should laugh at death or not.