David Shrigley OBE



Not on display

David Shrigley OBE born 1968
Gouache and ink on paper
Support: 297 × 208 mm
frame: 362 × 275 × 38 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2007


This drawing shows a figure caught between a snake and a large area of darkness that appears to be descending to fill the page. Shrigley drew the figure sitting on a chair on a raised dais in the centre of the lower half of the paper. The dais is made up of five stepped levels. In the foreground a black snake approaches the figure, moving up the first two levels of the dais. Like the snake, the figure is a simplified solid black ink silhouette. By contrast, what can be seen of the line-drawn chair under the figure and the dais itself are realistic three-dimensional line drawings. The straight edges of the dais were drawn using a ruler and it is perspectivally accurate. Directly above the figure, Shrigley filled the entire upper half of the paper with black paint, applied unevenly with a brush, leaving visible brush strokes. The black paint, like a huge weight descending to swallow the figure on the dais, hovers just above his head, curving around the corners of the dais. On the ground in the foreground some scribbled black lines add to the tension between representation and abstraction created by the differing methods of drawing. At the bottom right of the paper, just beneath the scribble, the artist has written in capital letters the melodramatic faux-Biblical words: ‘the time cometh’.

Speaking of the relationship between text and image in his work, Shrigley has explained:

Doing drawings and writing one phrase underneath it is quite formulaic, it is quite an easy thing to do ... [but] ... sometimes they don’t comment on each other at all. The words don’t describe the pictures and the pictures don’t illustrate the text. Ideally, that is the relationship I want them to have. They are two things and their relationship is still somehow awkward and has a friction to it.

(Quoted in Muntendorf, pp.15–16.)

In T12361, the complexity of the relationship between image and text pushes the work in two opposing directions and creates its affective force. The figure trapped on the podium between a snake advancing towards him on the ground and an area of darkness descending from above would seem to illustrate the notion of the clichéd expressions ‘between a rock and a hard place’ and ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’. The fact that these clichés exist indicate that the position – of being trapped between two evils – is common to the human condition. By placing the figure on an elevating dais, Shrigley places him in a special position, exaggerating the gravity of his situation. At the same time, the theatrical words ‘the time cometh’ render the situation ridiculous. The artist’s use of the archaic form of the verb ‘to come’ suggests the timelessness of great poetry and theatre. The notion of the time coming is based on heralding an apocalyptic moment – a moment for a terrible action enacted by on the hero of a great tale. In Shrigley’s drawing, although the protagonist is on a dais – a metaphorical stage – he is sitting down, as if he is placed to wait. The proximity of the words ‘the time cometh’ to the snake suggests that the words herald a moment of confrontation between snake and man. This is undercut by the descending blackness which, in its totality, would seem to propose an end to time itself. Shrigley has commented:

In a philosophical sense, my art is very fatalistic but hopefully the humour redeems it slightly from being just depressing. And when it comes to death – well, I prefer to see the humorous side of it as you can’t change anything about it anyway. Also, I think if you try to make some sort of fine gesture about the portrayal of God or the state of the world, you will inevitably fail. The only profundity you should ever achieve is in the particular, in very specific and personal things.

(Quoted in Muntendorf, p.22.)

Although it is not perhaps immediately apparent, the contours of the dark mass above the figure’s head are in fact the outline of a giant speech bubble, suggesting that the figure’s words to the snake – a long speech if the words take up the top half of the drawing – are obliterated, so that his attempts to communicate are in vain.

Further reading:
Caroline Muntendorf, ‘David Shrigley: Crooked Penmanship’, mono.kultur, no.9, December 2006/January 2007.
David Shrigley, Why We Got the Sack From the Museum, Bristol 1998.
Neil Mulholland, ‘Interview with David Shrigley’, http://www.davidshrigley.com/articles/nm_interview.html

, accessed 22 April 2008.

Elizabeth Manchester
April 2008

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