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British artist draws on black humour

Contemporary Art 2000. David Shrigley

Life’s absurdity is tackled with black humour and acerbic irony in an exhibition at Zurich’s Kunsthaus by British artist David Shrigley.

This content was published on September 22, 2003 - 08:35

The young artist is viewed as one of the foremost representatives of the new generation who have chosen drawing as their métier.

Yet as can be seen from his work, Shrigley seems uninterested in formal drawing skills, and many of his pictures - including paintings - are accompanied by crude handwriting.

But it somehow comes off, and although a few seconds suffice for the viewer to take each work in, they manage to unleash trains of thought which run and run.

Besides posing philosophical questions, Shrigley also focuses on the medium of drawing. In one text image, a pencil and an eraser converse: the pencil accuses the eraser of secretly rubbing out lines it has drawn.

By giving his drawing tools their own personas, he questions the role of the artist - and hence his own role:

“I think that maybe what separates me from other artists is that a lot of the people who see my drawings in books and magazines do not see it as ‘Fine Art’ and therefore are unaware that I am a ‘Fine Artist’ - a situation which pleases me.”

Unconventional cartoonist

Born in 1968, Shrigley graduated at art school in Glasgow, where he is based. He attempted a career as a commercial cartoonist and sent two books of cartoons – published by himself – to newspapers and magazines.

“Nobody liked them,” he told swissinfo with typical honesty, “so I soon stopped being a cartoonist.”

As Shrigley puts it, he went on to produce drawings “made to look like what I thought cartoons should look like”.

In doing so, he gave free rein to his intuition and the sense of irony which is an integral part of British humour.

“My drawings are for people who like to laugh at moral crises,” he said. “I'd like to think it isn't cynical; it's a matter of making fun of the things you could get depressed about. You have to laugh."

Hidden truth

Shrigley thus unravels customary notions by creating a world whose actual meaning is concealed behind an outwardly banal facade.

Asked by swissinfo if there was a risk that the British sense of humour in his work might have limited appeal outside Britain, he replied:

“To be honest I don’t think some of my work makes much sense to the British, so I don’t think the Swiss-German public will feel very different towards it.”

Shrigley is modest as well as frank. Swiss and German collectors have already taken an interest in his work, and if this exhibition is anything to go by, visitors to the Kunsthaus will be equally impressed before it closes on November 9.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson in Zurich

In brief

Born in 1968 and a graduate of Glasow art school, David Shrigley is described by curator Mirjam Varadinis as “one of the most important representatives of the new generation of artists who have chosen drawing as their metier.”

He says his drawings are “made to look like what I think cartoons should look like.”

Besides posing philosophical questions, Shrigley also focuses on the medium of drawing.

In one text image a pencil and an eraser converse: the pencil accuses the eraser of secretly rubbing out lines it has drawn.

The drawings give free rein to the artist’s intuition - the sense of irony accompanied by black humour which are an integral part of British humour.

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