& Existentialism

David Shrigley's Animals & Existentialism (2022) series showcases his signature blend of humour and existentialism in a collection of four artworks. Through quirky illustrations of animals, paired with drily witty captions, Shrigley explores the absurdity of human existence and the peculiarities of our relationship with animals.

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Meaning & Analysis

Animals & Existentialism is a captivating print portfolio by David Shrigley that creates humour through whimsical illustrations and insightful captions. Through a series of four monochromatic digital prints, each released in an edition of 250, Shrigley takes us on a journey of existential contemplation, shedding light on the absurdities of human existence and our intriguing relationship with other animal species.

All of Shrigley's artworks can be characterised by their unique blend of charmingly simple illustrations and surprisingly deep commentary on the complexities of life. This portfolio is no exception: its quirky cast of animal characters - a cheetah, a monkey, a squid, and a bird - are infused with human-like qualities in order to become the mouthpiece for Shrigley's wryly existential captions. But they also, perhaps, are a challenge to our human assumption of greater intelligence and general superiority, as captions such as “DO NOT EAT HIM... HE IS INTELLIGENT AND SPECIAL” take issue with this claim of human exceptionalism. Through their expressive eyes and gestures, Shrigley captures the essence of our own struggles, desires, and anxieties as well as blurring the line between humans and animals, playfully challenging the perceived barriers that separate us from the natural world.

Shrigley's exploration of themes such as purpose, mortality, and the futility of our actions prompts us to contemplate the meaning of life and our role in the grand scheme of things. I've Heard About Freedom, for example, depicts a bird in a cage, alongside the poignant caption: “I'VE HEARD ABOUT FREEDOM AND I DON'T LIKE THE IDEA OF IT... SO I'M GOING TO STAY IN MY CAGE.” This caption speaks to both human and animal dilemmas, as it could simultaneously be interpreted as a philosophical comment on the likelihood of free will, a lament about humanity's compulsion towards societal conformity, or as a critique of the limitations humans have placed on certain animal species through domestication.

A significant aspect of Shrigley's oeuvre lies in the interplay between his illustrations and the accompanying captions. With just a few well-chosen words, he adds layers of meaning, injecting wit, irony, and introspection into each artwork. The combination of image and text creates a rich and engaging experience, urging us to delve deeper into the underlying messages and reflect on our own place within the universe.

Through his unique blend of humour and philosophical inquiry, Shrigley often offers a refreshing and accessible perspective on these weighty subjects. Indeed, when released in 2022, this portfolio was offered with a sibling suite, entitled Human Behaviour, which continues to explore the same themes. Animals & Existentialism is a celebration of our shared humanity and the interconnectedness of all living beings; Shrigley reminds us that despite our struggles and existential dilemmas, we are not alone in our experiences. The portfolio serves as a gentle reminder to find solace in our shared absurdities and to approach life's uncertainties with a sense of humour and curiosity.

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