I think that I would be both correct and inoffensive to say that David Shrigley has been very lucky. He’s lucky to have been nominated for the Turner prize, and to have been on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. He’s lucky to have found work as an artist, something notoriously difficult to do. The fact that he got a 2.2 for his degree in Environmental Art, which, apparently, you get “just for turning up” makes it all the more impressive. He’s also lucky to live in the UK, the only place, probably, to understand and appreciate his understated, quiet but excellent sense of humour.
At the same time, it doesn’t take much to see that he is, clearly, a brilliant artist. Perhaps not in the traditional sense: he debates the usefulness of being able to draw well, and has a strange, cartoonish, childish style. He seems to dislike people analysing his art- more than once, I am reminded of an interview I saw with Freddie Mercury where he stated he hadn’t a clue what Bohemian Rhapsody was about.
You do truly get a feeling of an artist when Shrigley talks. He seems uncertain in himself, sometimes mentioning his fame, other times painting himself as shy, uncharismatic and awkward. There’s a sense, too, that he must be able to sell his work quite well, both to galleries and to strangers in the pub (he tells us that this is how he started off, with self-published books of cartoons for the price of a couple of beers).
He seems uncertain, too, about the Turner prize (he was nominated, but did not win, in 2013). It appears to him as though everyone is nominated- like turning 30, or finding your first grey hair, Turner prize nominations are inevitable. He tells us of the people living in a mile radius of him who have been nominated or won it. The figure is the double digits. I have never been to Glasgow, but I am left with the distinct feeling that they keep all the artists penned up together, although I couldn’t offer a reason why. Inspiration, possibly? Proximity to galleries?
For someone to whom the Turner Prize is no big deal, Shrigley certainly talks about it for a while. His final piece was a statue of a man who pisses into a bucket (which instantly makes me wonder how exactly this works, and more disturbingly, if they’re using real wee) surrounded by drawings of this statue, done by members of the public. He recalls the art gallery asking if they could sell them. He was against it, apparently “everyone can come and take theirs home, if they want it”. Personally, I like the idea of someone framing and displaying a kid’s picture of a misshapen man, pissing, and hanging it over their fireplace to admire with some red wine. But perhaps I have a twisted sense of humour.
Looking through his artwork on google, you get the sense that it’s almost Warhol-like in its ability to be replicated, multiple times, quickly. Later, someone asks if he minds people getting tattoos of his work, or putting it on tea towels and shirts. Not at all, apparently. He thinks some of the shirts are “a bit shit”, but his reluctance to tell the Japanese company who are making them means that they are still going ahead. I wonder if it’s because he can’t speak Japanese. To be honest, if I saw one of his shirts on sale in Camden Market, I’d probably buy it.
Another question comes in. what does he dislike in other people’s paintings? He dislikes, apparently, work that is immediately understandable. Going back to my Google search and remembering what was on the projector behind him, I can see that a lot of what he does works on different levels. One, a picture of six cans of cola with “I drank six cans of cola one after the other and now I feel fucking great” could be a comment on societies reliance on drugs. Or the intensive consumerism of western culture. Or what to do when very, very bored on a Sunday afternoon. I've had worse ideas.
There’s plenty that Shrigley doesn't talk about. According to Wikipedia, he directed a video for Blur and does cartoons for the Guardian. But I find this out later, because I didn’t know who I was going to see. Instead, stupidly, I had just written down a time and a place. But listening to Shrigley speak, I don’t think he would mind.