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Culture

The talented Mr Shrigley

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The opposite of seriousness is not humour, says this British artist, it's incompetence.

In some circles, having your handwriting turned into a downloadable typeface is the equivalent of having some of that never-ending galactic stuff named after you. David Shrigley's handwriting is a font. Yep, David Shrigley is that cool. Andy Leek, the designer of the font, loved the British artist's handwriting so much he turned it into a typeface, complete with emoticons that draw on stock Shrigley characters like squiggly babies and contorted skulls.

Text is an integral aspect of the 44-year-old's artwork. It is an integral aspect of the deadpan-ness that has come to be identified with his drawings and animation. Consequently, it could well be that this famed handwriting is just another artistic strategy. Shrigley responds, "It's just my handwriting;the only concession, it being part of my artwork, is that it's all capitals. "

Although the handwriting is in all caps, there's nothing overtly all caps about Shrigley's understated work. The reaction it evokes though is rarely understated. This was evident at the Mumbai Art Room where a selection of Shrigley's drawings are on display. Reactions range from puzzled 'ummms', wry laughter/smile, 'hmmm', head-scratching, Shrigling with excitement, cackling to raised eyebrows and even a visit to a tattoo parlour.

Shrigley's subversive line drawings and texts often find themselves inked on flesh, as opposed to paper. On the artist's website there's a tattoos subhead. The section features photographs mailed from all over and made by people who've got Shrigley's drawings tattooed on them. The tattoos range from the text-based work 'follow me' and 'we must all of us, you and I and everyone, occupy a space' to a text-drawing combination of a spider - reminiscent of the spider sculptures of the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois - with the words 'I was not always as I am now' written underneath.

In Shrigley's world, this tattoorelated enthusiasm does not mean that the artist actually wears one. "I don't have a tattoo but I used to have my ear pierced when I was younger, " he offers by way of explanation.
Could it also be then that Shrigley is not funny outside of his art? Could it be that the mordant humour is just another artistic device? He responds, "I don't know. Do you want me to tell you a joke? Yes? OK. What's brown and sticky? A stick. " Right then. It's quite possible that this is a work Shrigley has already done or intends to do anyway. And there's more where that came from.

Apart from being deadpan, Shrigley's humour is also preoccupied with death. "I think we are all preoccupied with death, " he says. "Death is part of life. It's inevitable that it should be a subject for art. " I can't help wonder if he's pulling my leg or being 'serious'. Be that as it may, someone's leg got pulled. The exhibition has a drawing of a swollen, blob-like thing with human legs sticking out of its alien orifice. The text states: "Alien life form comes to earth and eats you. You should be flattered. "

There's no 'before humour' and 'after humour' in Shrigley's work. For nearly 20 years now, he has kept the drollness coming. Responding to the suggestion that humour gets shortchanged in contemporary art, he argues, "It's not something I think about much. I certainly don't feel my work gets overlooked;quite the opposite. Certain people dislike humour in contemporary art and therefore they dislike what I do. I think some people assume that if an artwork is humourous then it can't be serious but I think this is a mistake. Seriousness isn't the opposite of humour. The opposite of humour is sadness and the opposite of seriousness is incompetence. "

Although best known for his drawings, Shrigley's compelling wit also extends to, among other things, installation, animation, album jackets, music videos and song lyrics. For Shrigley, a song, a poem and a drawing aren't very different from one another. "They're just different media is all. On a business level, however, I'm glad I'm in the art world and not in the world of music. The music business is cruel and unforgiving. "

In 2006, Shrigley cut an album of spoken-word poetry, Shrigley Forced To Speak With Others. The title makes him seem like the truant child of the art world and some have even used the term 'outsider art' when discussing his work, but Shrigley believes otherwise. He concludes, "I went to art school and I make a living as an artist. I'm very much an insider artist. "


David Shrigley's Drawings are exhibited at Mumbai Art Room, Colaba, Mumbai, till August 19.
A selection of his videos will be screened on the last day of the exhibition.

 

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