The Verse’s Jake Francis reviews guest director David Shrigley’s Talk at Brighton Dome on 23rd May 2018.
Laughter. It’s a rarer thing than you’d think in artist talks – they often consist of monotone drivel and uninspiring, over-professionalised babble (or, as they laymen appropriately call it, ‘gobbledygook’). I for one have lost count of the times I’ve encountered this stereotype – half hating myself for turning up, half wishing I could overcome my innate British sensibilities and just get up and leave early, regardless of the eye rolls and tutting.
David Shrigley, however, poses no such issue – his talk is both entertaining and unapologetically self-aware. Now, when I say that Shrigley is not a natural public speaker, I say so with gleeful sincerity. Like his infamous drawings, Shrigley does not offer a polished product. Instead, he thrives in the wiggle-room of the ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ with a naive charm that captures your attention and genuine interest. Instead of using fancy segues into abstract theories and their associated ‘language’ (like I’m doing right now), Shrigley appears quite comfortable structuring his talk with matter-of-fact confidence. Most sentences start with ‘then I did this…’ or ‘I got to do this..’. A firm relief, I’m sure, to many who are used to the usual self-important art nonsense.
The ‘lecture’, if you can call it that (and I’m sure Shrigley would implore you not to), consisted of a sequential narration of the artist’s various projects – the rapidity of which was matched only by the audience’s enjoyment. Whizzing from one strain of his practice to the next, Shrigley did not lose us for a second. His blunt and flippant commentary resembles that of a child who’s picking out his Christmas presents in October from an Argos catalogue. Starting his talk with a line that filled us all with optimistic anticipation, Shrigley announced that ‘this is the section about robots’. His work The Artist. Robot, Pens, paper. (2014), for instance, consists of a motorised head – ‘running about with two pens stuck up his nose.’ Within 25 second of being on stage, Shrigley had already set a precedent for what was to come, unashamedly blunt and eloquently ineloquent: ‘Now, a lot of people say that his drawings are better than my work, but the head is sort of my work, so…’. This dry commentary continued into the artist’s next segment, entertaining the crowd with tales of institutional exclusion to visit his Life Model #1: ‘the schools weren’t allowed to come because it was a naked man with his willy out, peeing into a bucket.’ Shrigley appeared surprised at THIS being offensive, backing up his point with countless drawings that prove Life Model #1′s innocence amongst his other creations.
This notion of offence continued throughout Shrigley’s talk, with the amused artist asking why his art is considered offensive, subjecting us to “offensive” art over and over. Alongside his so called ‘controversial’ acts, Shrigley appeared proud of his numerous piss-taking exploits when given an advertising gig – with him responding ‘Oh, ok, that’s fine’ with petty sarcasm when asked to place Beck’s name on a range of the musician’s merchandise. It is within these moments during Shrigley’s talk that we get an earnest view to his mischievous antics, in equal measure thriving and misfiring. The artist’s ad campaign for Pringle of Scotland, despite being conceived spitefully for ‘not being paid very much’, was somehow embraced by the fashion brand: the animation featuring a literal ‘gay to straight meter’ in the company’s fictional old-lady style sweat shop. However, Shrigley shares the hilarious tale of his time at the Guardian, when his work was literally cut in half for one of their articles, proving that even with unintentional editing, both the artist and his work are still amusing in their honesty.
The talk continued with endless stories of pointless labour, with Shrigley sharing his passions for inspiring moronic tattoos on his fans, and filling gallery walls with hidden colourful balls and snake-like monsters. Unsurprisingly, the artist’s frivolous explanations didn’t not offer much reasoning as to ‘why?’ – he appears to do things just ‘because’. These ‘childish’ acts acquire a potency to them when Shrigley proclaims, rather less poetically than Picasso’s famous quote, ‘that sometimes 10 year olds make way better stuff than you’ – a fact that never feels too far away from Shrigley’s delayed adolescence. Amongst his stories of exhibition foolery and divisive illustrations, the artist touched on his jaunts through the world of taxidermy – most notably his range of headless creatures. When addressing people who ask why he made these animals, Shrigley said his default response is: ‘I didn’t make the animals, God did. I just retrieved the carcasses. I’m always asked what I did with the heads…I keep them in a box, look here’s a picture.’ Musicals, pumpkin-inspired gym gear, eerie football mascots, and an insatiable passion for collecting scissors (and rulers, though not anymore): the constant flitting from one thing to another proves that Shrigley is not merely a sarcy-illustrator, each misadventure is garnished with a level of importance that may only make sense to him, but pricks our interest anyway.
Throughout, Shrigley displayed an admirable combination of childish whimsy and straight talking, referring to his work the same way a ‘bloke’ would talk about his divorce to a work colleague. When asked ‘can you draw?’ Shrigley answered ‘turns out I can’t’. When the topic of a Q&A at the end was mentioned, Shrigley stated ‘we’re not having one, they don’t really work’. And when people asked what comes first, the text or the image, he bluntly replied ‘sometimes the text comes first, and other times the drawing comes first.’ For many, this may come off as over-simplistic and reductive. For me, it is bloody refreshing – an oasis in the over populated world of art babble and endless explanation. Shrigley may not be the epitome of an excellent public speaker, but he is certainly an inspirational one.
‘I make drawings where there is one drawing and I say everything that I want to say…I never want to make anything that is longer than it needs to be…’