David Shrigley OBE



Not on display

David Shrigley OBE born 1968
Ink on paper
Image: 199 × 123 mm
support: 199 × 123 mm
frame: 268 × 198 × 38 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2007


This untitled drawing combines image and text. It is a simple line drawing of a section through a human head and shoulders, showing the cavities of the nose and mouth converging in the throat. Above the head, in the centre of the page, three short, bone-like forms drawn in thick black pen are labelled ‘bones of the inner ear’. Below them, the words ‘stuck in the cannibal’s throat’ caption a long straight line and arrow descending to a small protrusion in the character’s larynx, the place where the oesophagus and trachea meet. Further down, five curved lines across the throat mimic standard representations of the trachea in medical diagrams. Below these, a tiny arrow indicates a continuation of movement downwards.

Shrigley has commented:

Humour is very important in life ... If you can amuse yourself, that’s the best thing. Always, when I create my own work, I’m alone, or at least nobody is looking at what I’m doing, so I’m just speaking to myself most of the time ... I think the best kind of humour is the kind of humour where you don’t quite understand what you’re laughing at – you intuitively know that there’s something there that’s both funny and ‘other’. Everything should be humorous on some level. Every part of our understanding of the world needs to a humorous one.

(Quoted in Williams, p.1.)

Born in Macclesfield, England, Shrigley has lived in Glasgow, Scotland since he went there to study Sculpture and Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art in 1988 (BA hons, 1991). He makes drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures that are whimsically absurd and darkly humorous. Text is fundamental to his practice: his drawings are usually combined with handwritten text as a more or less oblique commentary on the image (see T12358, T12363 and T12364), or unevenly written (but generally correctly spelt) text functions as the work itself (T12362 and T12366). Shrigley’s photographs likewise frequently feature text of various kinds, playing on the many ways in which the written word functions as a link between the private and the public spheres of life. This includes such forms as public signage on roads and buildings (P79243), graffiti, newspaper headlines and the kind of notes that people put up in public places to advertise things. Crudely sketched in black, Shrigley’s drawings resemble doodles. His textual commentaries are cloaked in a similar false naivety projecting a comic idiot persona – the literary equivalent of a clown. Shrigley uses this voice to satirise the details of everyday life as affected by the community – moral judgements, truisms, obsessions, insecurities and paranoias abound. The artist’s sympathies lie with the individual struggling against the social body; artists’ books are his preferred forum for exhibition as they constitute an art form that is accessible to everybody. Poignant and shrewd, as well as surreal and funny, Shrigley’s words and images tap into moments of solitary reflection and intimate confession common to us all.

Further reading:
Maxwell Williams, ‘King of Books - David Shrigley: Interview by Maxwell Williams NYC’, October 2005, http://www.davidshrigley.com/articles/maxwell_williams.htm

, accessed 22 April 2008.
Caroline Muntendorf, ‘David Shrigley: Crooked Penmanship’, mono.kultur, no.9, December 2006/January 2007.
Neil Mulholland, ‘Interview with David Shrigley’, http://www.davidshrigley.com/articles/nm_interview.html

, accessed 15 February 2008.

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2008

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