David Shrigley's Art and the Absurdity of Everyday Life

Live Each Day As If It Were Your First by David Shrigley - MyArtBrokerLive Each Day As If It Were Your First © David Shrigley 2022
Leah Mentzis

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In the whimsical world of David Shrigley's art, the folly of everyday life is masterfully captured and exposed. Shrigley’s unique artistic approach features dark humour and childlike drawings, magnifying the bizarre and often overlooked aspects of life and revealing their inherent peculiarities. By using visual satire and wry commentary, Shrigley transforms the banal into the extraordinary, inviting us to reassess our preconceptions and unveiling the inherent absurdities of our daily existence. His contemporary relevance lies in his uncanny ability to hold a mirror to the human condition, encouraging us to embrace and find humour in life’s folly. His art serves as a potent reminder of the humorous and irrational side of human nature, making him a true master of illustrating everyday absurdity.

“I don’t think you can make brilliant art work, in a way, or at least at the time you’ve made it you don’t know if it’s brilliant. I just try and make art works that are good enough to show.”
David Shrigley
An image of the print I Am Currently On Fire by artist David Shrigley, showing a large fire on some grass. At the bottom of the flame is the print’s titleImage © David Shrigley / I Am Currently On Fire © David Shrigley 2018

David Shrigley’s Artistic Style

David Shrigley’s signature aesthetic is immediately recognisable, characterised by crude line drawings, bold colours and offhand lettering. This unpretentious visual language allows him to communicate complex and profound ideas through disarmingly simple and accessible means.

Shrigley's works often centre on ordinary objects and situations, which he imbues with an unexpected twist that exposes their innate absurdity. His hand-drawn text pieces, such as I Am Currently On Fire, combine a sense of urgency with his signature deadpan humour, underscoring the irrationality and incongruity that pervades our lives. The absurdity inherent in Shrigley's art is also evident in his animated films, like The Letter, which features a character who carefully writes a sick leave letter, only to be confronted with the triviality of its contents. This work, like many others by Shrigley, highlights the futile search for meaning in a chaotic and unpredictable world.

By employing a minimalist and deliberately crude visual style Shrigley demonstrates his refusal to conform to traditional artistic standards, challenging the elitism that often surrounds the art world and inviting a wider audience to engage with his creations. In this way, he encourages viewers to reconsider their assumptions about art and its role in society. His inclusive approach, combined with his keen sense of the absurd, ensures that Shrigley's art remains a powerful and relevant commentary on the human experience.

 An image of a page from the book How Are You Feeling? by artist David Shrigley. On the left side is some text, addressing the “voices in your head” and providing “advice”. On the right is a human figure – small against a massive eye, and under a text reading “Massive eye is watching you but don’t worry about it.”Image © David Shrigley / How Are You Feeling? (Open Page) © David Shrigley 2012

Key Themes in David Shrigley’s Art

David Shrigley’s art is characterised by several recurring themes, which not only provide a framework for understanding his diverse body of work but also offer insights into the human condition and our collective attempts to make sense of the world.

The exploration of mortality and the transient nature of existence is a pervasive theme in his art. As seen above, his works often portray death with an ironic twist, transforming it from a sombre subject into a source of humour. One recent example is his series I'm Dead, which features stuffed animals holding a sign with the same phrase, and highlights the absurdity of our desire to preserve life even in death. This irreverent approach to a traditionally solemn topic reflects the artist’s belief that laughter can be a powerful antidote to fear and despair, offering a unique perspective on the inanity of life and its inevitable conclusion.

Shrigley’s art frequently tackles contemporary social issues, addressing topics such as consumerism, political hypocrisy and mental health. His works often employ irony and subversion to critique societal norms and challenge the status quo. His 'self-help' book, How Are You Feeling? engages with the viewer in an intimate way, using illustrations to communicate commonplace inner thoughts that are likely shared between most humans.

Through his works, Shrigley encourages viewers to question their own values and assumptions, revealing the foolishness that underpins modern society.

Black and grey brushstrokes covering the entire sheet to emulate clouds apart from a small white section which is off-centre and has the words 'A Gap In The Clouds' written in childlike red writing.Image © David Shrigley / A Gap In The Clouds © David Shrigley 2020

The Role of Humour In David Shrigley’s Art

David Shrigley’s artistic style is a brilliant fusion of dark humour, childlike simplicity and a keen eye for the absurd. His art is undeniably funny, using wit and satire to expose the absurdities that permeate our daily lives. His clever wordplay and visual puns often reveal the disconnect between our intentions and the actual outcomes of our actions. By making us laugh at our own contradictions, Shrigley's art serves as a tool for self-reflection and critical thinking. His art is defined by its unique ability to expose the absurdity of the quotidian through the use of dark humour and biting social commentary. Through his various mediums, from sculpture and drawing to animation, Shrigley invites us to find laughter in the most common of places.

The Absurdity of Everyday Life

The recurring themes in Shrigley’s art contribute to the concept of everyday absurdity by highlighting the inherent contradictions, irrationalities and incongruities that pervade our lives. By employing the macabre as a source of humour, using wit to expose our flawed nature and engaging in piercing social commentary, his art provides a powerful lens through which to examine the human experience. His unique ability to transform to challenge our perceptions of reality and our place in the world renders his work a compelling reflection of life’s inherent idiocy.

He often uses mundane situations to explore themes of communication and relevance, as seen in Memorial, a large granite slab engraved with a lengthy and convoluted grocery list. By immortalising an everyday task in a format traditionally reserved for commemorating significant events, Shrigley highlights the absurdity of our priorities and the triviality of our daily concerns.

An image of the print It’s Ok Not To Like It by artist David Shrigley, showing a person standing across from Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The title phrase is written in red script above the scene.Image © Shrig Shop © It’s Ok Not To Like It © David Shrigley 2022

David Shrigley’s Influences

David Shrigley’s art has been shaped by a variety of artistic influences which reflect a wide range of styles and ideas. These have informed his unique absurdist aesthetic and thematic approach, resulting in a distinctive body of work that is thought-provoking yet accessible. One significant influence on Shrigley’s art is the subversive spirit of Dadaism, an early 20th century art movement that rejected traditional aesthetics and embraced chaos, nonsense and the irrational. Like Dada artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Shrigley employs irreverence and irony to challenge conventional norms, while his use of found objects and everyday materials echoes the Dadaists' disdain for traditional artistic techniques. For example, his series on Boots – featuring ceramic walking boots displayed on plinths – recalls Duchamp's iconic Fountain, a urinal presented as an artwork. Both works subvert the expectations of what constitutes art.

Shrigley's art also exhibits the influence of Outsider Art, a term used to describe the work of artists who operate outside of established art institutions. His intentionally naive drawing style and the use of unconventional materials resonate with the raw, untrained aesthetic often associated with the movement. He has often spoken of feeling inadequate after graduating from Glasgow School of Art with a 2:2 and not achieving immediate success. Perhaps due to this, Shrigley often challenges the elitism of the art world and seeks to create a more inclusive and democratic artistic experience. His recent print It’s Ok Not To Like It questions what makes “good art”, and who gets to decide what art is worthy of being displayed in a museum.

Overall, David Shrigley's art is informed by a rich tapestry of influences, which have shaped his distinctive aesthetic and thematic approach, allowing him to create works that challenge conventions and provoke thought.

An image of the neon sign My Artwork by artist David Shrigley, a blue neon which reads “My artwork is terrible and I am a very bad person.”Image © Stephen Friedman / My Artwork ©David Shrigley 2018

Materials and Techniques Used by David Shrigley

David Shrigley employs a diverse range of materials and techniques in his art, reflecting his multifaceted approach to exploring the absurd. His wide choice of mediums, which range from drawing and painting to sculpture and installation, contributes to the accessibility and impact of his work.

Drawing is central to Shrigley’s artistic practice, with his signature style featuring crude, childlike line drawings and intentionally imperfect lettering. The unrefined aesthetic serves to disarm the viewer and create a sense of intimacy, before providing biting social commentary. In his paintings and sculptures, Shrigley utilises unconventional materials such as neon, taxidermy, and found objects. For example, his neon sign My Artwork explores the insecurity of artists when exposing themselves to judgement from the art world and beyond. Meanwhile, his sculpture Brass Tooth transforms a mundane human appendix into an intriguing artwork, questioning boundaries of art. By repurposing familiar materials, Shrigley challenges our assumptions about art and invites us to engage with the world in unexpected ways.

He has also added to the debate of mass-production with his Shrig Shop, where he sells anything from his prints and drawings to ceramics and homeware – diversifying the art purchasing experience and blurring the lines between high and low art. By employing diverse techniques and materials, Shrigley creates a multi-sensory experience that amplifies the impact of his message.

The materials and techniques used by the artist, whether they are simple drawings to complex installations, play a vital role in communicating the concept of everyday absurdity. His varied choice of mediums work alongside his unique aesthetic and thematic approach, and allows Shrigley to create thought-provoking and accessible art that challenges the viewer to not take life too seriously.

An image of the giant sculpture Really Good by artist David Shrigley, a massive thumbs-up displayed on Trafalgar’s Square Fourth Plinth. The National Gallery, London is in the background.An image of the giant sculpture Really Good by artist David Shrigley, a massive thumbs-up displayed on Trafalgar’s Square Fourth Plinth. The National Gallery, London is in the background.Image © London Gov / Really Good © David Shrigley 2016

The Public Art Of David Shrigley

David Shrigley's public art installations play a significant role in conveying the concept of everyday absurdity and democratising art, as they engage with a wide audience and bring his unique perspective to urban spaces. By transforming familiar surroundings through his use of immersive environments and large-scale sculptures, he encourages viewers to confront and reconsider the absurdity of their surroundings and sociopolitical context.

One of Shrigley's most well-known public artworks is Really Good, a giant thumbs-up hand with an elongated thumb that was installed on the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square. The sculpture humorously exaggerates the ubiquitous gesture of approval, prompting viewers to question the sincerity of such affirmations and exposing the absurdity of our obsession with positivity. By situating this whimsical piece in a prominent public space, Shrigley invites a broad audience to reconsider the mundane aspects of their lives.

Another example of Shrigley's public art is his Life Model installation, which features a caricatured life-sized fibreglass figure surrounded by chairs and easels. Visitors are encouraged to create their own drawings of the figure, mimicking a live drawing workshop and blurring the lines between art and viewer. This interactive piece playfully challenges conventional notions of beauty and artistic skill, highlighting the absurdity of societal expectations and artistic elitism. He has also been successful within a more commercial atmosphere. He was notably commissioned to work on decorating the famous restaurant Sketch in London, creating one of the most Instagrammable interior spaces in the city. His 245 drawings created a sense of camp that was popular with the general public and art enthusiasts alike.

David Shrigley’s public art installations effectively convey the concept of everyday absurdity by transforming familiar urban spaces and situations, engaging a diverse audience. Through his thought-provoking pieces, Shrigley encourages viewers to confront the humour and irrationality that pervades their lives, ultimately challenging our perceptions of the world around us.

I Am Happy by David Shrigley - MyArtBrokerI Am Happy © David Shrigley 2021

The Reception Of David Shrigley’s Art

David Shrigley’s art has been met with a wide range of responses from critics and the public, often sparking debate and garnering significant attention. While some critics have lauded his unique aesthetic and ability to expose the absurdity of everyday life, others have been less enthusiastic, dismissing his work as crude or overly simplistic. However, it is this very divisiveness that underscores the appeal of Shrigley’s art in today’s contemporary art scene. Overall, the public reception of Shrigley’s work has been largely positive, with many viewers appreciating his dark humour, accessible style and provocative themes. His installations have been particularly popular, as they invite interaction from a wide audience. His inclusive approach to art challenges the elitism that often permeates the art world, making Shrigley's work appealing to those who may not typically engage with contemporary art.

Shrigley's art is relevant today because it provides a fresh perspective on the human condition and encourages viewers to question the absurdity of modern life. His work resonates with contemporary audiences, who are increasingly grappling with issues such as consumerism, mental health and the search for meaning in an ever-changing world. By using humour and satire to address these topics, Shrigley's art offers a powerful vehicle for reflection and dialogue.

Furthermore, Shrigley's art contributes to the contemporary art scene by challenging traditional notions of artistic merit and pushing boundaries in terms of materials, techniques, and themes. His intentionally crude drawings and unorthodox materials defy conventional expectations and invite a reevaluation of what constitutes art.

A print with a white background and the words 'Don't Blame The Idiots' printed in black with each word on a separate lineImage © / Mutual Art / Untitled (Don’t Blame The Idiots) David Shrigley 2019

Embracing The Absurd

David Shrigley's art offers a unique and captivating exploration of the absurdity inherent in everyday life, which has resonated with critics and the public alike. Through his wit, crude aesthetic and thought-provoking themes, Shrigley exposes the contradictions and irrationalities that permeate our existence. His diverse range of materials and techniques and his inclusive approach to art challenge conventional artistic norms, encouraging a wider audience to engage with contemporary art. By holding a mirror to the human experience, Shrigley's work invites us to question our assumptions, embrace the absurd, and ultimately find humour and meaning in the seemingly mundane aspects of life.