Rude Britannia room guide: The Absurd

Romeyn after De Hooghe Arlequin sur l Hypographe a la Criosade Lojoliste1689

Romeyn, after De Hooghe
Arlequin sur l’Hypographe à la Criosade Lojoliste 1689

British Museum, London

John Tenniel Illustrations to Through the Looking Glass and What Alice found there The Walrus the Carpenter and the Oysters 1872

John Tenniel
Illustrations to ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice found there’: The Walrus, the Carpenter and the Oysters 1872

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Angus Fairhurst The Problem with Banana Skins Divided Inverted  1998 sculpture of a banana skin

Angus Fairhurst
The Problem with Banana Skins Divided / Inverted 1998

© The Estate of Angus Fairhurst, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

David Shrigley Im dead 2007 stuffed cat standing on its hinde legs holding a sign saying im dead

David Shrigley
I’m Dead 2007

David Roberts Collection, London © courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London Photo: Stephen White

Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson Death to the Fascist Fruit Boys 2010 two male cartoon figures with fruit and vegetables for heads and hands are attacking a cone of chips which has a face, legs

Shaun Doyle & Mally Mallinson
Death to the Fascist Fruit Boys 2010

© Doyle and Mallinson

Spirit Flask 1800 carved or moulded drinking flask in the shape of a human head

Spirit Flask c.1800

Royal Pavilion Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘absurd’ reads ‘Out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical … plainly opposed to reason, and hence, ridiculous, silly’.

Much comic art since the seventeenth century could be in fact classed as absurd, involving disconcerting dislocations of scale, the humanisation of inanimate objects and animals, and baffling uselessness. Rather than adding up to a coherent British tradition of absurdist humour, the works brought together here may suggest the rich variety of absurd comic art – mixed with elements of melancholy and regret.

Harry Hill has been our guest curator in this space, and has added some of his own special touches to the installation.

See also

Tate Etc

Occupational therapy

Harry Hill on his paintings, Tate Etc issue 19, Summer 2010
Tate Etc

Who farted?

Rude Britannia: British Comic Art:, Tate Britain’s forthcoming exhibition exploring the riotous history of humour in British visual culture ...