An Interview with David Shrigley: What The Hell Are You Doing?

by Reid Singer on October 21, 2011 Interview


RS: Was there a period in your career when you wanted to make drawings about social conventions that seem really absurd when you scrutinize them?

DS: Yeah. I like things out of context. When you take things out of context, like a Yield sign, they do transcend their actual meaning, and they suddenly take on a profundity that they didn't otherwise have, and that's something that one can do with everything: with the messages your email account sends you and stuff, you're just like, “Why am I being asked for my password? Why am I being asked for my password?” And it sort of seems like a very profound statement, a very abstract statement rather than a very specific statement. I've always been interested in that.

RS: Often, there’s a darkness in your drawings that can seem so overt that I wonder if people find it detached, and maybe even snide or insincere. Is that just not your style? Is there ever an early draft or something that ends up in the discard that can seem too involved emotionally?

DS: Perhaps, yeah. There's a certain timing I strive for and that's a way of expressing myself that I'm not quite comfortable with. It's all very intuitive, all these decisions that I'm making, so a lot of the statements that I make are very satirical and morbid, and angry sometimes. Is there a line I don't want to cross? I mean, there's a line that everybody doesn't want to cross, I suppose. It's different for everybody.

RS: I wonder if sometime critiquing the  book could read that as being an unwillingness to take risks. What quality is more valued in the parlance of art criticism than, “He's taking a risk,” or “He's innovating.” There isn't necessarily that element if you're spending a lot of your time laughing and mocking.

DS: Well, there is a comedy there. I want to make work that is infused with comedy, and that's a really deliberate thing. I don't shy away from the fact that for the most part, it's supposed to be funny. It's not quite funny enough to be comedy per se, but I don't think the opposite, that I'm not a serious artist. The opposite of seriousness is not humor. The opposite of seriousness is dilettantism. The opposite of humor is something that's austere or even sad. The work is serious. This is what I want to make, and this is a skill for better or worse that I've honed for quite a number of years, and this book is an anthology of perhaps the most successful of that stuff.

Obviously, I have many detractors, people who really don't like what I do, who don't get it, or just think it's flotsam and jetsam, some symptom of the current age, a current attitude of my generation of making art. And that's something you just have to accept. You can't please everybody. You have to please yourself. I'm quite rigorous about it. I'm rigorous in the way that I make it, but nonetheless, it is what it is.

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