David Shrigley OBE



Not on display

David Shrigley OBE born 1968
Ink on paper
Image: 298 × 208 mm
support: 298 × 208 mm
frame: 360 × 270 × 20 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2007


Untitled is a work that combines text with image. The upper half of the page is a crude pen drawing of a lake or a bay, looking over the water towards land. A small sailing boat on the right side of the picture indicates that the lines ruled unevenly over the paper represent water. In the blank area above the narrow strip of hills, two inky fingerprints on either side of the page bracket sketchy marks, made using the artist’s fingers, that graduate from very light to a solid area of black at the top of the picture. The centre of the water has been left blank in a large, perspectivally graded area that stretches from the bottom of the drawing to the land at the water’s edge, getting narrower as it nears the horizon. It would appear to evoke the reflected light of the sun on water as it sets or rises, although there is no representation of a sun in the sky above. At the bottom right, the drawing is captioned ‘sunset’, written using capital letters and set in inverted commas to emphasise the notion of a clichéd representation. This presents it as the companion piece for the text on the bottom half of the paper, headed ‘horoscope’, comprising twelve boxes of equal size ranged in two rows of six, one above the other. Shrigley used a ruler to create even rows and columns demarcated by straight lines. The large blank area in the drawing is formally echoed in the blank areas of the rectangular boxes.

The horoscope starts with ‘Aquarius’ and ends with ‘Capricorn’. Instead of the usual mixture of ambiguous statements and suggestions, worded to be as open to interpretation and widely applicable as possible, Shrigley’s comic horoscope is phrased with brutal directness and simplicity, suggesting the voice of a malevolent fortune-teller. Aquarius is the only month that offers any kind of optimism, claiming that: ‘you will almost certainly win the lottery’. It is followed by ‘you should get divorced’ under Pisces, ‘your house will burn down’ under Aries, ‘stay off the road’ in Gemini and ‘this week you will become gravely ill’ under Cancer. There is no entry at all for Taurus, suggesting that either the forecast is too horrible to be revealed, or that the author does not know or care. The second row of horoscopes goes from bad to worse: Leo’s warning to ‘stay indoors’ is followed by Virgo’s apparently harmless ‘you are very tall’ preceding an apocalyptic climax –‘you are a criminal and you will go to jail’ for Libra, ‘you will die next week’ for Scorpios, ‘you will probably die this week’ for Sagittarians and finally ‘you are an alcoholic and you will die this week’ under Capricorn.

Although Shrigley has described the relationship he would ideally like image and text to have as being ‘somehow awkward’ (quoted in Muntendorf, p.16), in Untitled the drawing complements the text below. The combination of drawing styles spoofs the clichés of the conventions of horoscopes printed in newspapers and magazines. A beautiful sunset symbolises a kind of ideal ending – exactly what many hope to read in their horoscope. Shrigley refers to this in the opening entry for Aquarius – the sign that symbolises water and freedom –but in a crudely oversimplified way that immediately undercuts the romantic notion of an image of the sunset. The absence of the sun in Shrigley’s drawing also has this effect; the two fingerprints and the marks between them may be read as strange planets orbiting in a spookily disturbed sky.

As in all Shrigley’s text works, such as Untitled 1996 (T12362) and Untitled 1998 (T12366), the authorial voice in T12363 stages a fictional personality with a warped vision of life. The artist has commented: ‘As an artist, I am ... playing a part. The narrator in my work is somebody other than me. It’s some crazed person who either over- or undermoralizes everything, and naturally, I expect people to understand that.’ (Quoted in Muntendorf, p.17.) Shrigley’s exaggeration of moral codes in part stems from being brought up by Christian fundamentalist parents who influenced his formative years with a Biblical interpretation of the world. His work repeatedly satirises the kind of moral oversimplification inherent in the division of the world into good and bad, black and white. He mimics the formats of the many different kinds of text that bridge public and private spheres to reveal the humour in the common neuroses of everyday life. 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.)

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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