By Jennifer Lynn
“Apparently books have to be about something these days,” says artist David Shrigley, when I ask why he decided to write a self-help book. “I’ve made a lot of books that aren’t really about anything in particular, or that are about things that are very ambiguous. My publisher told me that the time had come where I had to write a book that was actually about something, so that they could tell people what it was about, in order to more effectively sell it.”
A lot of books about nothing is perhaps an understatement; prior to his latest offering How Are You Feeling I counted thirty-seven titles, ranging from Ants Have Sex In Your Beer, to Merry Eczema. On top of this, he’s directed a music video for Blur, designed countless posters and leaflets, drawn a weekly cartoon for The Guardian’s Weekend magazine since 2005 and had his work displayed in over forty solo exhibitions around the world. You see, David is something of an art institution, despite the humorous nature of his best-known graphic work.
“I’m very much a fine artist in terms of my job description, and that’s what pays my mortgage,” he says. “If I never published another book and never did another t-shirt or greetings card again, I’d still have exhibitions and do what I do in the world of fine art. It wouldn’t make a huge difference to my life; I’d still be able to pay the mortgage.”
With the general public focused on his line drawings and darkly comedic musings, does he ever worry that his fine art projects won’t be taken seriously as a result? “Strangely the world of fine art was always more accommodating to the comedy of what I do than the world of bookshops, newspapers and magazines, stuff like that,” David begins.
“I actually had success in the world of fine art long before I had success in the real world of publishing, and you know, doing pop videos and whatever. So I think in that sense I’ve never been dissatisfied with how seriously my work’s been taken. I mean people say, ‘Oh you’ve never been nominated for the Turner Prize,’ but I can’t really complain about the level of attention that my work gets in the world of fine art. I’ve got work in a collection at the Tate and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and I’ve just done a show at the Haywood Gallery, so I feel like I am taken seriously. Maybe not by everybody, but that’s par for the course.”
The Glasgow School of Art alumnus goes on to explain how his signature style of line drawing came about. “I always say that it’s a decision not to do something, rather than a decision to draw in a certain way,” he says. “I only draw things as representational as they need to be, in order to say what I need to say, so in that sense it’s a decision not to draw particularly well, but it’s not like I’m trying to be very naïve. It’s a process of reduction of image, rather than a decision to draw in a very affected way, if you know what I mean.”
David’s work often focuses on the morbid side of life, such as his 2010 collection of annihilated ceramic sculptures titled The Dead and the Dying, or 2002’s white bucket known simply as Antidepressants. “I suppose you’ve got to make art about something haven’t you,” he explains. “At the end of the day, these are pretty fundamental issues to us as human beings. The work arrives in a very intuitive way; I never really consciously try to make art about anything, except on this occasion with How Are You Feeling.
“As a deeper context, these are issues which are very much in my subconscious and I don’t know if they’re things that everybody thinks about. The work is kind of dark, but it’s also supposed to be quite humorous at the same time. It’s a comic take on something that would be a bit too dark if it didn’t have a comic take on it.”
As he ponders his own creativity, I suggest that perhaps David’s height has something to do with it; at six foot five inches tall maybe he simply has more room for all those ideas?
“Possibly, I don’t know,” he laughs. “Richard Wright’s about the same height as me and he won the Turner Prize a couple of years ago, but I guess then you’d have to think small people would ergo not be creative. Who are the uncreative people?”
How Are You Feeling? is out now priced at £12.99 from Urban Outfitters and all good bookstores