What The Hell Are You Doing?: The Essential David Shrigley
354 pages

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354 pages

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A beautifully designed and darkly comic collection of work, this book collects together the best of Shrigley's work, old and new. It is a celebration of the surreal world of one of our finest contemporary artists.



Publié par
Date de parution 16 septembre 2010
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781847679604
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0720€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Introduction by Will Self
I am a regular if not exactly enthusiastic patron of my local bookshop. I try to buy at least some books there, because I cling to the belief that it’s important to maintain those businesses that put a human face on the exchange of money for goods and services. If we bought everything on the internet, our eyes and mouths and nostrils would probably begin to film over with a tegument – initially tissue-thin and capable of being removed each morning, it would gradually thicken and harden until we were imprisoned in our own tiny minds.

Anyway, over the years I’ve not exactly grown friendly with the staff of the bookshop, but we do tolerate one another. They know I’m a writer – obviously – and they do me the kindness of displaying signed copies of my books in their window. On a couple of occasions I’ve even given readings at the shop. What I’m trying to say here is that, basically, this is a functioning relationship, albeit one of a circumscribed kind: I write books; they sell books; I buy books from them (although not my own, because I know what’s in those ones already).

Then, I don’t know, perhaps a year or two ago, one of the men who works in the bookshop told me he had written a book, and asked me if I would take a look at it. This happens to me quite a lot – some people are looking for advice or concrete assistance to get their work published, others simply require a generalised affirmation. None of them, I suspect, is looking for genuine and heartfelt criticism such as: Your book is dreadful, you are wholly without talent; please, never try to do this again – although I’m glad you showed me this, for, having established just how vile it is, I have been able to burn it and so prevent it from falling into the hands of someone less worldly-wise and more vulnerable than I am, someone who might be so depressed by your execrable efforts that they self-harmed or committed suicide.

I was a bit put out by the way the parameters of my relationship with the people who work in the bookshop were being altered, but despite knowing full well that I’d probably be unable to respond to the material with any great honesty, I still found myself unable to refuse. As it transpired, the book turned out to be pretty good. It consisted of a series of drawings executed in a style that was at once childlike and sinisterly knowing, and the drawings were accompanied by texts of different lengths – some little more than captions, others taking up the whole page – that also disturbingly married the infantile to the cynical. Overall, the impression the book

left me with was of a small and dirty window being opened on to an alien world of compelling familiarity – not a bad effect, I’m sure you’ll agree, for an artist-cum-writer to have achieved.

A few days later I went back to the bookshop and returned the book to its creator. I like your work, I told him, then said the nice things about it that I’ve written here. But, I continued, I also have a problem with it. Oh, said the bookshop man, really? Yes, I said. I don’t exactly know how to put this, but has anyone who’s seen your work ever pointed out to you that it bears a strong resemblance to the work of someone else? Do you mean David Shrigley? said the man. Yes, I replied, that is exactly who I mean. Well, said the bookshop man, a little abashed but putting a brave face on things, I know my work is very like David Shrigley’s, but, you see, it is my work, work I’ve been doing for years now, since long before I was ever aware of David Shrigley’s work. I accept that, I said – although at the time of speaking I did, in fact, retain ignoble reservations. But what I’m trying to tell you is that I think you’ll find it hard to get your work published given its strong similarity to the work of David Shrigley, who is quite well established. And that is where we left it.

As I said, while I was speaking to the bookshop man I had ignoble reservations. It wasn’t that I imagined he had plagiarised the work of David Shrigley – the notion was too bizarre. It was rather that I suspected he might have seen some of Shrigley’s work, been sort of inadvertently influenced by it and then – quite legitimately – forgotten that he’d ever seen it at all.
However, as I walked away from the bookshop my ignoble reservations dispersed, hanging for a while like a smirch of lorry exhaust against the dull shop fronts of the suburban high street and then disappearing entirely. No, I thought, it’s true: this man has been doing these Shrigleyesque drawings and writings for years now, and he is doomed to utter obscurity whereas David Shrigley probably lives high on the hog, sipping Kir Royale

cocktails from the bra cups of deeply aroused and admiring Hollywood stars. Yes, this man, and, who knows (because the world is a desperately big place), perhaps thousands of other men and women, will labour away at their shriggles, yet be unable to gain any purchase on the public realm, a realm bestridden by Shrigley himself. For is it not the case that no summit meeting or international conference is considered viable without him in attendance, usually giving the plenary address? These poor folk, I thought, will be restless and dissatisfied with their lives, while from moment to moment Shrigley knows a deep and abiding spiritual joy.
Still, I comforted myself, as I strolled beneath the railway bridge and noted how the pigeons had defied the measures taken against them by shitting liberally on the serried palisades of nylon spikes, might this business with Shrigley and the myriad Shrigley-a-likes be simply another instance of a phenomenon we see all about us in nature? The multitudinous elvers are spawned, but only a few make it to the Sargasso; the legions of sperm are ejaculated, yet it may be that not one manages to fertilise the egg. Untold billions of stars are hurled out into the infinity of space, but on only one of these will the Shrigley evolve.

These rarefied speculations sustained me so long as I was walking, but when I reached home I slumped, dejected. How could anyone be sanguine about a universe the ordering principle of which appeared to be such useless profligacy?

I thought of all this as I took up the proofs of the book you now hold in your hands. Was I simply confirming Shrigley’s unique fitness to be Shrigley – for surely, he must be that by virtue of his survival alone? Or did I simply want to give myself a bit of a laugh?
A pattern of wonky hexagons, a blot, a scribble – all inky black: ‘Unfinished plan for a new and better society’, the legend read. Then it struck me: the man in the bookshop’s work may have borne a strong resemblance to Shrigley’s, but it just wasn’t the actualité. There were none of these luridly dull photographs with scrawled-upon signs in the foregrounds, which undermine the basis of not just any society, but precisely this one. Shrigley’s photographic works suggest the refined eye of someone sent back from the future beyond the looming apocalypse, charged with assembling images that, while ostensibly of the mundane, nonetheless explain how it came to pass that humanity destroyed itself.
Humans. Humans entire or pared down to heads, or heads equipped with legs: uglified anime you hope won’t move. In Shrigley’s drawings – and Shrigley’s alone – the human body is undifferentiated, as imagined by a child, with sausage limbs and a hammy torso … and yet … and yet, it is also as acutely visceral as a freshly killed cadaver plastinated by Gunther von Hagens. No wonder the animals depicted in Shrigley’s work – and there are a lot of them – have such troubled expressions and pithy thoughts: crouched in their garish colour fields they retain their integrity, while compelled to witness the bewildering juxtapositions of hubris and false humility evinced by the twiggy men and women.

Only Shrigley’s world is so furtively inhabited; hesitantly, his vision emerges from behind a palisade of penstrokes, advances on tiptoe towards whimsy, then beats it insensible with a lump of wood. Because they’re angry in Shrigley world, angry at the enjambment that splits dimensions across lines of wonky text. And they’re unstable in Shrigley-world, their feigned maturity constantly being undermined by the artist’s compulsion to show duff workings. It’s also quite terrifyingly archaic, this realm the artist has created – an archaism that reveals itself through demons and bogey beasts, and the efforts of the stick-figure shamans to magic remote effects using a bricolage of pen strokes and blots.

Like other graphic artists who create enclosed worlds of morphs – Dr Seuss, Edwards Gorey and Lear – there is nothing in Shrigley’s disconcerting pictorial space which doesn’t belong; however, I think he may well be unique in the fine balance he creates between image and caption. At his best, John Glashan got close to what Shrigley achieves, but he never had quite the same range and fluency: on the kink of his line Shrigley can shift effortlessly from pathos to paranoia.

And his work is funny – very funny; his timing is devastatingly effective while being curiously non-Euclidean (the punch line is located in a separate dimension to the setup, never alongside).

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