David Shrigley's bright, funny & often somewhat profound images have drawn an enthusiastic following amongst art aficionados & the general public alike. Here we examine his work, the Shrigley market & whether his prints represent a good investment.
Brighton-based artist David Shrigley is best known for his cartoon-like prints and deadpan captioning. Usually depicting animals or various household objects, Shrigley’s crudely drawn illustrations satirise the most mundane human interactions or everyday situations with colourful cheerfulness.
Whilst made an OBE in the 2020 New Year’s Honours for his services to visual arts, Shrigley’s art has not always been recognised with such acclaim. In fact, his final show at Glasgow School of Art was only awarded a 2:2, much to his continued chagrin—the markers, he later commented, “didn’t appreciate my genius”. Shrigley’s career has only risen since, however, commissioned to create an out-of-proportion thumbs-up for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth plinth in 2016, and having work shown in prominent museums such as Tate Britain in London and MoMA in New York.
Read on for a brief guide to Shrigley’s work, where to buy Shrigley prints and investment analysis.
Shrigley’s motto is simple—“If you put the hours in, then the work makes itself”. His work is rarely planned, instead the artist starts with a blank piece of paper and a list of things to draw, and sees where his whimsy takes him. Shrigley’s work ranges from I’m Dead, a taxidermied cat stood with a picket sign proclaiming the same statement, to his Tennis Ball Exchange, his most recent exhibition featuring over twelve thousand brand new tennis balls, stacked neatly across every available wall surface in a Mayfair gallery.
Whilst David Shrigley has worked across a wide range of mediums—including painting, installation, photography and animation—his most popular work remains his drawings. These rather rudimentary illustrations are generally paired with cheeky commentary or simple messages such as ‘be kind’, scrawled in schoolboy lettering.
Here’s a look at the range of Shrigley’s artistic methods and mediums.
Shrigley’s paintings contain, like all of his illustrations, an equal dose of dry humour and purposefully rudimentary technique. Scrawled in a combination of acrylic paint and oil stick, Shrigley’s paintings are bright and cheerful—cynical commentary couched within.
A 2016 exhibition at the Stephen Friedman Gallery featured a collection of such works, each with various imperatives including ‘TOLERATE NOTHING’—accompanying a clenched purple fist—‘LOOK AT THIS’—printed below a bare pink bottom—and ‘RUN FROM YOURSELF’—paired with a cartoon-like jogging torso. Other captions work simply as labels, informing the onlooker that the checkerboard of shaky red lines below is in fact a ‘SCHEDULE’, the smudged square of black a ‘MIRROR’ and the green leaf-like blob ‘GOOD’.
Shrigley has also used this medium to explore Optical Art, creating pieces that hover somewhere between painting and drawing, with wonky black and white lines careening across the canvas in an imitation of the much smoother 1960s Op Art movement.
Shrigley’s prints generally depict a very similar subject matter to his paintings, and are generally his most recognisable works. Pieces listed on Shrigley’s website include Tiger Shit, a relatively self-explanatory depiction of a splayed tiger defecating; Stop Panicking, a squawking pink goose emblazoned with ‘STOP PANICKING, EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE’; and My Rampage is Over, which presents a slouched blue elephant, presumably taking a breath.
Shrigley’s animals generally border on cutesy, his captions ranging from strong statements on contemporary issues like climate change—such as the statement accompanying his elongated image of the earth: ‘WORLD HAS BEEN DISTORTED, WE MUST RETURN IT TO ITS ORIGINAL SHAPE’—to clichéd—as in ‘YOU ARE SPECIAL’.
Other prints include his News collection, exaggerated imitations of broadsheet front pages proclaiming various mundane headlines like ‘WEED KILLED PUT ON WEEDS IN GARDEN’ and ‘STUFF BLOWN AROUND IN WIND’, and eye chart imitations, which feature similarly banal statements stacked in a graphic black and white text.
Shrigley has created a variety of large-scale installations and sculptural pieces during his career, including, perhaps most famously, Really Good. The work—a distended hand making an exaggerated thumbs up symbol—won the prestigious Fourth Plinth commission in Trafalgar Square, erected in 2016 as a sardonic comment on the recent Brexit decision.
Whilst Shrigley claims that one’s response to his work is always correct, “whatever that may be or whatever my intention was”, his installation work and sculptures often carry an alternate meaning.
Brass Tooth is another such example—limited edition shiny gold teeth, supposedly intended for cracking nuts, but simultaneously a comment on the ridiculous amount of money spent worldwide on orthodontia.
Shrigley’s 2020 show in Copenhagen, Don’t Touch the Worms, alludes to human mortality with its colossal inflated pink worms, which rhythmically inflate and deflate according to the huge LED clock presiding over the gallery space. The presentation is the artist’s largest to date.
It was just after graduating from Glasgow School of Art that David Shrigley published his first book—a collection of doodle-like line drawings.
Whilst Shrigley has been drawing incessantly ever since, it was only during the lockdown period that he became a particularly prolific creator of black and white sketches, which saw him produce over 400 works. The A3 illustrations feature his usual motley crew of nude men, cartoonish animals, and quirky captions—one sees an outstretched hand offer up a lit joint, asking the viewer to ‘CHILL OUT PLEASE, YOU’RE DOING MY HEAD IN’, whilst another claims ‘REALITY ISN’T IMPORTANT, IT’S THE REFLECTION OF REALITY THAT’S IMPORTANT’.
Drawings produced during the pandemic address more political topics as well, such as a sketch of a teapot and cups, captioned—‘TEA FOR EVERYONE, POURED FROM A MASSIVE POT, IT IS A GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE’.
Shrigley has also dabbled in animation since the late ‘90s—working in collaboration with animators to transform his sketches and comic strips into short videos. A collection of such clips was shown in 2013 at Gallerai Nicolai Wallner, whilst his Light Switch animation was screened during the David Roberts Art Foundation’s ‘On Screen’ program in 2020.
The medium allows Shrigley to expand the scope of darkly humorous drawings, further investigating themes of the mundane, the weird, and the wacky.
Shrigley’s photography, like the rest of his work, deals with the intersection of the weird and the humdrum. His photographs are often labelled—a black and white image of a swooping bird captioned ‘THE SKY’; whilst an abandoned glove on a pavement slab is dubbed ‘THE GROUND—or are themselves photographs of text—as in the case of Lost Pigeon, in which a hand-written poster is taped to a park tree, proclaiming a lost ‘GREY + WHITE PIGEON WITH BLACK BITS’.
Others simply show various objects with faces drawn on, such as the menacing matchstick in Arson, the sea of smiling stones in Beach Dwellers, and the contently snoozing white balloon in Balloon.
David Shrigley’s website contains an extensive archive of his work, with links to Jealous Gallery provided for prints that are still available for sale.
Limited Edition prints can also be bought from the Shrig Shop, a Copenhagen-based art shop founded by Shrigley and long-term term friend and gallerist Nicolai Wallner.
Finally, Shrigley prints can also be found at auction houses and websites like Phillips, Sotheby’s and Ebay.
Limited edition silkscreen prints still available from Shrigley’s Copenhagen shop are generally priced within the EUR €1,500 to €4,000 range, depending on dimension and edition size. Untitled (You Cannot Help Looking at This), an unframed 130 x 98cm print from an edition size of 100, is priced at the upper end of that margin, at €4,000, for example, whilst Untitled (Shit), at 65 x 50cm, is only €2,000.
Prints released from Jealous Gallery, linked to from Shrigley’s website, sell within a similar range. It’s All Your Fault is listed for £2,083.33, from an edition size of 125; Black Cats, a typically Shrigley animal-based print, is £2,416.67 for the same edition size. Shrigley’s now sold-out 2022 print No One is Happier Than Me sold for £1,850 for Editions 1-100, £2,900 for Editions 101-125, and £3,900 for the Artist Proofs.
The record price paid for a Shrigley piece at auction is USD $44,100 at Sotheby’s New York in 2006, for the piece Untitled (It’s OK)—over ten times its estimate.
More recent Shrigley pieces have also vastly outsold their estimates. Shrigley’s 2021 I Am Elegant, I Am Oh So Very Elegant, sold for £8,820, despite a £1,500 to £2,000 estimate, as did Stop Panicking, which sold for £8,190 with the same estimate range.
The majority of Shrigley’s limited edition prints sell well within their estimates at auction, however. Of the 390 prints & multiples offered at auction over the past five years, 17% failed to sell.
David Shrigley’s most popular works have performed well at auction over the past five years, with some going for well over their original prices. Works such as Untitled (I Am Listening), Be Nice & My Rampage Is Over have routinely met or exceeded the high estimate. Indeed the percentage of prints exceeding the high estimate is good - standing at 39%. Compare that with Damien Hirst at 31% and David Hockney at 44%.
However there are some caveats here - one being that the average hammer price for Shrigley prints over the last five years is £2295 - within the original retail price range of most of Shrigley’s prints. Hockney in comparison averages £19,965 & Hirst £10,143. This is the five year average. If we compare the average hammer price of a print in 2017 versus 2022 the difference is more pronounced. In 2017 the average hammer price for a Hockney print was £16,021, by 2022 that figure had risen 85% to £29,742. Hirst also demonstrates gains: a 2017 average of £9205 versus a 2022 average of £11,254, +22%. This contrasts with Shrigley who in 2017 averaged a hammer price of £3098, which has subsequently fallen by 19% to £2522 in 2022.
Considering that some works by Hirst and Hockney fall into the price ranges paid at retail and auction for Shrigley’s most popular works, there is a strong financial argument to look elsewhere. These are established artists with significant auction history behind them and track records of appreciation in value. For example, the average return on a Damien Hirst print in the last 5 years stands at 57.6% & David Hockney averages a return of 131.8% over that same period (mid-2017 to mid-2021). At these price points, other artists to watch include Invader & STIK. Both of these artists have seen a surge in popularity and corresponding auction performance over the past five years. The average return on a STIK print stands at 149.5% for the period (mid-2017 to mid-2022), with Invader showing a return of 340.6%.
The simplicity of Shrigley’s work allows him to be a particularly prolific artist, continually releasing new prints in various edition sizes. For this reason, some of his early releases are still not sold-out, with prints from 2007 and 2008 available for sale on his website—a good indicator of an artist’s investment value.
Furthermore, some Shrigley prints currently for sale on the secondary market are also available on Ebay for a fraction of their selling price. Balance A Ball On Your Nose, for example, is listed at Hang-Up Gallery for £4,500. On Ebay, the same print can be found for just £2,650. Shrigley’s White Elephant, similarly, can be found at Frank Fluegal Gallery for USD $3,000 (GDP £2,697), yet is being sold on Ebay for a mere £1,099. Finally, I Will Retrieve Your Phone is being sold for £4,500 at Hang-Up Gallery, and £3,090 on Ebay.
For these reasons, David Shrigley prints may not be the optimal purchase if you are looking for a secure long-term investment. However, for aficionados of the artist, the secondary market offers the potential to acquire his work at significantly less than retail.
If you own a David Shrigley print & are looking to sell, we can help you find the right channel to maximise your potential return.
*Data in this report is taken from public auction records.