David Shrigley is best known for his distinctive drawing style and his satirical treatment of commonplace human conundrums. Acerbic, weirdly profound, while at the same time universal, his quick-witted drawings and hand-rendered texts are typically deadpan in delivery yet stirring in their effect. Posing eccentric moral dilemmas through his trademark combinations of figurative drawing and wit, Shrigley’s playful absurdity draws on familiar reference points that the viewer can easily locate: tropes from advertising, asides and personal refrains mingle with a cacophony of oblique observations and sociopolitical critiques. Extending hospitality to other points of view, Shrigley draws naïve observations and the perspectives of creatures, aliens and objects into his orbit, to lay bare the mirth, ambiguities and pathos at the heart of everyday life.
While drawing remains at the centre of his practice, Shrigely’s artistic exploits are rich and varied. Over the course of his career the artist has worked across an extensive range of media, including animation, installation, painting, photography and sculpture. Recent projects include a large-scale installation commissioned by Stephen Friedman Gallery for Freize London 2018, Really Good for the prestigious Fourth Plinth Commission in London’s Trafalgar Square (2016), the live performance work Problem in Brighton (2018), and London Is Open, a 2016 poster campaign created with London mayor Sadiq Khan as a positive counter-response to the Brexit vote and wider anti-immigration sentiment in Britain.
With this exhibition Shrigley returns to his mainstay of text-based drawings, with two new bodies of works on paper. Produced specifically for the show, the larger acrylic works include a number of allusions to his previous time in New Zealand while artist in residence at Two Rooms in 2015. Iconographic marketing images such as the kiwi and the flip-flop (or jandal in local parlance) jostle with mood states and declarations such as To Hell With Everything Except Pets, Moments of Clarity and I Am Not Drowning I Am Enjoying Some Peace And Quiet At The Bottom Of The Lake. In this series colour adds an extra layer to Shrigley’s slapstick language. Upending a more familiar poetic cliché, for example, we find The Moon Reflected in Slime surrounded by a curdled swamp of forest green, the moon’s silver disk rather murky and diminished in size.
In the series of ink-on-paper works, visual and textual humour are delivered with wry precision: we encounter image-ideas such as Birds With Yo Yos, a Fucking Sunrise and an Entrance to Hell Via Student Accommodation. While characteristic of Shrigley’s dry humour and capacity to cut to the heart of the quotidian and its predicaments, we might sense a more brooding tone in the pieces that touch on larger, grittier truths. However, as he shifts swiftly in scale and tone – between worldwide woe and frivolous levity – Shrigley captures a quality that is as slippery as it is particular, adeptly reflecting back to us the mercurial nature of our habits of thought.