Sketch and David Shrigley's Social Media Fame

Dozens of prints by David Shrigley are seen hanging on a pink wall at the restaurant Sketch.Image © Creative Commons via Flickr / Detail of Shrigley's work at Sketch London
Leah Mentzis

Leah Mentzis, Partnerships Manager[email protected]

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The year was 2014: Instagram was hitting its peak, everything came in millennial pink and Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" was inescapable. Selfies reigned supreme, and London soon found its newest hotspot to see and be seen in the restaurant Sketch. Much of its notoriety was thanks to the artist David Shrigley, whose catchy humorous prints provided the perfect backdrop. Shrigley's work transcended traditional galleries, leveraging social media's canvas to captivate a global audience. His distinctive artistry combined with the power of digital platforms heralded a new era, blending the lines between high art and pop culture in unprecedented ways.

A view of the rose-gold hued restaurant Sketch, in London. Two women can be seen dining at a table on the bottom left corner.Image © Creative Commons via Flickr / A view of Sketch, London.

Sketch: The Platform That Amplified Shrigley's Voice

Since its original opening in 2003, Sketch has not only been a testament to culinary excellence – with one of its five eateries holding three Michelin stars – but also a beacon of innovative interior design and artistic collaboration. Its 2014 redesign by Shrigley marked a pivotal moment in the world of high-end dining and art, perfectly synchronising with the burgeoning era of social media to create an immersive experience that transcended traditional dining expectations. The partnership between Sketch and Shrigley turned the restaurant into a canvas, where Shrigley's distinct voice was amplified beyond the conventional art spaces into the daily lives of its patrons.

With 239 original works adorning its walls, Sketch became an interactive gallery, blending the lines between the culinary and the creative. Shrigley's humorous and often satirical art provided a unique backdrop that resonated with the Instagram generation, making the restaurant a place for not just dining but for experiencing and sharing art in a new, accessible way. Sketch's transformation under Shrigley's vision captured a new zeitgeist where dining became intertwined with digital culture. The whimsical pink interiors became iconic, symbolising a shift towards experiences that are visually appealing and shareable on social media. This evolution from a high-end restaurant to a cultural phenomenon showcased how art could extend its reach and impact through collaboration with different spaces and industries.

The Rise of David Shrigley: From Artist to Social Media Phenomenon

Shrigley's career began to take shape after he graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1991. His early work, which often featured crudely drawn, humorous cartoons combined with text, quickly distinguished him from his contemporaries. Despite the simplicity of his drawings, Shrigley's work is deeply philosophical, engaging with themes of death, love, and the absurdity of existence in a manner that is both accessible and thought-provoking. The advent of social media provided Shrigley a new canvas to showcase his work, as platforms like Instagram allowed him to reach a global audience beyond the confines of galleries and museums. His witty and often surreal posts resonated with a wide audience, bridging the gap between high art and popular culture. Shrigley's own social media presence allowed him to engage directly with his followers, creating a dynamic community around his work.

Social media fame has propelled Shrigley into a new realm of influence. His Instagram account, filled with his signature style of absurd, poignant, and humorously bleak observations, has attracted followers from all walks of life, making him a household name among art enthusiasts and the general public alike. He has more followers than Damien Hirst, and this platform has provided a new medium for his creativity, including interactive posts that encourage user engagement. Moreover, Shrigley's success on social media has led to numerous collaborations with brands, artists, and cultural institutions, further expanding his reach and impact. It is a testament to how artists can leverage digital platforms to transcend traditional barriers in the art world, fostering a more inclusive and interconnected global art community.

Shrigley's rise from respected artist to social media phenomenon underscores the transformative power of digital platforms in amplifying artistic voices.

An overhead view of the restaurant Sketch, with its new colour palette in tones of yellow and gold.Image © Sketch

Sketch and Shonibare: A New Era for Artistic Expression

Although Shrigley’s collaboration was only supposed to last two years, it was so popular that it stayed for eight. Sketch underwent a dramatic refurbishment in 2022, with Yinka Shonibare at the helm – signalling another transformation, reflecting broader shifts within the art world and societal narratives. Moving away from parody to incisive commentary on cultural appropriation, Sketch's evolution mirrors the changing dialogues around art's role in addressing complex cultural issues. Shonibare's work, alongside collaborations with other artists, continues the tradition of Sketch as a space where art and culinary excellence provoke thought and conversation. The dynamic relationship between food and art at Sketch is emblematic of a broader trend where the boundaries between different creative domains are increasingly blurred and amplified by social media.

Just as Shrigley's work transformed Sketch into a site of artistic pilgrimage, Shonibare's contributions and the culinary innovations inspired by his themes underscore the potential for restaurants to serve as platforms for cultural exchange and artistic expression. Sketch's journey from a traditional high-end restaurant to a vibrant hub of artistic and culinary innovation highlights the power of collaborative creativity and social media popularity. By hosting the works of artists, Sketch has redefined what a dining experience can entail, marking itself as a landmark where the worlds of food, art, and social media intersect in continually evolving and engaging ways.

The Impact of Social Media on Contemporary Art

The advent of social media has fundamentally altered how art is created, shared and experienced. This digital revolution has democratised art, breaking down traditional barriers and establishing new pathways for artists to engage with audiences worldwide. With social media platforms, artists can showcase their work directly to a global audience, bypassing traditional gatekeepers such as galleries and curators. This direct line of communication has made art more accessible, allowing emerging artists to build a following and establish their careers without the need for institutional validation. It has also fostered a more inclusive art community, where diverse voices and styles that might have been overlooked by the conventional art world are celebrated and shared. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook allow for immediate feedback, engagement, and dialogue, making the art experience more interactive and personal. Artists can share their process, inspirations, and behind-the-scenes glimpses, creating a more intimate connection with their audience. This interaction not only demystifies the creative process but also makes art more relatable and understandable to the public.

Social media has introduced the concept of virality to the art world, where the success of a piece can be measured by its shareability and the volume of engagement it receives. This has influenced both the creation of art and the metrics of success, with some artists tailoring their work to perform well on social platforms. While this has opened up new opportunities for visibility, it also raises questions about the impact on artistic integrity and the value of art beyond its social media appeal. The pressure to constantly produce content and the emphasis on metrics such as likes and followers can be daunting for artists and there's also a risk of homogenisation, where the desire for viral success leads to a convergence of styles and themes. Moreover, the transient nature of social media content can undermine the enduring value of art, with works being quickly consumed and forgotten.

Nevertheless, social media has doubtless allowed people who normally would not seek out to engage with art to do so, offering new opportunities for visibility, engagement, and creativity. It has shifted the power dynamics within the art world, enabling artists to reach audiences directly and on their own terms.

What Aspiring Artists Can Learn from David Shrigley's Social Media Strategy?

Aspiring artists can glean several valuable lessons from Shrigley's adept use of social media and his broader approach to marketability, collaborations, and merchandise. His strategic approach to his art and brand has not only amplified his presence in the contemporary art world, but also offers a blueprint for emerging artists on how to navigate the digital landscape and beyond. Shrigley's success is largely due to his authentic voice and distinctive style, and he consistently shares work that reflects his unique perspective. Aspiring artists should note the importance of developing a recognisable and genuine voice, which resonates with audiences and stands out in the crowded digital space. Shrigley effectively uses social media to engage with his audience, creating a sense of community around his work.

He has also increased his marketability through merchandise, especially in The Shrig Shop, which offers a range of merchandise from books to apparel featuring his work. This allows fans to own a piece of his art in a more accessible and functional form, extending his brand beyond the gallery and increasing his market reach. Up and coming artists should explore creating their merchandise as a way to make their art more accessible, generate additional income, and enhance their brand visibility.

Shrigley's collaboration with Sketch and other brands showcases the power of strategic partnerships in broadening an artist's reach and engaging with new audiences. These collaborations have allowed him to apply his art in new contexts, from restaurant interiors to limited-edition products, demonstrating the versatility of his work. Aspiring artists should consider the potential of collaborations with brands, institutions or other artists to expand their audience and explore new mediums and platforms for their work.

Shrigley's approach to social media, marketability, and collaborations offers invaluable lessons for aspiring artists. By maintaining authenticity, actively engaging with their community, exploring merchandise opportunities, pursuing strategic collaborations, and leveraging social media, artists can build a sustainable and successful career in the digital age. Shrigley's success story underscores the importance of adaptability and creativity in both art and business strategies.

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