David Shrigley OBE



Not on display

David Shrigley OBE born 1968
Paint on paper
Image: 291 × 210 mm
support: 291 × 210 mm
frame: 365 × 378 × 38 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2006 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2007


This is a simple drawing made using black poster paint and a small brush. It is a diagrammatic representation of thirty-one heads, all seen in profile facing the same direction. There is one exception – near the top of the page a head is shown at a three-quarter angle turned towards the viewer. Although all the heads have the same sort of hair, represented by a series of paint strokes or lines over the back of the head, two thirds of them have no nose, and are closer in their structure to a skull than a full head. Of these, some have a row of visible teeth, as is usual in a skull, but several have simple lines delineating their mouths, as the more fleshy heads do. All the eyes are circles, many of them abutting the line of the forehead. The eyes belonging to seven of the skull heads are blacked-out. There is no apparent order to the arrangement of the heads on the page, although those on the bottom half are more regularly spaced than those on the upper half.

Shrigley has commented of his works: ‘My drawings are all very intuitive in the way they come about. Doodling would not be an entirely inaccurate description.’ (Email to the author, 21 July 2008.) Around 2002-4, the casual repetition of a motif to fill the page, as exemplified by the heads in T12367, was one of the artist’s preferred strategies, providing a visual equivalent of the written list, also appearing frequently in his work from this time. The artist’s book, Human Achievement (London 2002), features several pages of repeated heads – one, captioned ‘dead eyes’, is covered in people with blacked out eyes ([p.20]); and further on, a double spread reproduces two pages covered in heads, one showing eight heads with a strange cone-like hairstyle ([p.138]) and the other covered in thirty-two heads similar to those in T12367, all in profile in a random mixture of left- and right-facing ([p.139]).

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 kinds of notes that individuals put up in public places. Crudely sketched in black, Shrigley’s drawings have a childish appearance. 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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