A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Goode, The Mad And The Shrigley: Cultural Adventures On The South Bank

Richard Goode
To the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday to see the American pianist, Richard Goode. This is a big venue — potentially hazardous for a pianist renowned for his shyness and musical introspection. But what a performance! (Luckily my seat was reasonably near the front and on the keyboard side; I felt a bit sorry for those at the back.) There was not a sound from the audience, only a concentrated hush, as Goode  captivated us with an emotional yet precisely balanced interpretation of Schumann's Kinderszenen, then his Kreisleriana suite. The second half was all Chopin: a nocturne, a scherzo, a ballade, a couple of waltzes. In some pieces he brought out, particularly with the left hand, melodies I swear I'd never heard in those pieces before. The piano sang with a rare intimacy — a welcome change from the extrovert, key-thumping renditions of so many contemporary concert pianists. I quietly warmed to Goode's sensitive, self-contained personality, and his ability to lay bare the inner depth and beauty of the music with the lightest of touches.

Afterwards I spent a very happy hour going round the David Shrigley exhibition next door at the Hayward Gallery. How to categorise Shrigley? First of all, he's very, very funny — but the humour has a dark, mordant edge to it. You smile — but often feel quite uncomfortable doing so. Shrigley himself hopes that his work will provoke laughter, intrigued confusion and disquiet. He uses all types of mixed media to put across his quirky, left-field take on life: cartoons, handwritten texts, sculpture, photography, animated films, neon signs, music, tattoos.

Stepping through the portal of Shrigley's Brain Activity retrospective, you enter a mad world. The writing on the black, metalwork, spider's web-like entrance says 'Do Not Linger At The Gate', and you don't; but you do linger before many of his other faux-naïf artworks and installations. You try to figure them out: there's intellectual activity involved here, as well as an immediate emotional and blackly humorous reaction!

In one photograph, a sign in the middle of a river announces: RIVER FOR SALE (the capitals are underlined with a wavy line). Another photo shows a small, rough box with a door-like flap at the bottom, situated on a razed urban plot where a house used to be. On the box is written in crude capital letters: LEISURE CENTRE. Yet another photo features a plastic-smiling Barbie doll, grotesquely rounded and fattened from neck to knee in a pumpkin dress. And another — my favourite — is a close-up of a piece of paper, roughly torn from a spiral-bound notebook and pinned to a tree, upon which is written:


(Could this be a real objet trouvé, not a work created by Shrigley? How do you lose a pigeon? Isn't there something quite hilarious about it being a pigeon, rather than a dove, or a canary, or a parakeet? And isn't it amusing that 'pigeon' is spelt incorrectly, with a 'd' in the middle? Yet isn't that also a bit patronising — to laugh at someone who can't spell 'pigeon', particularly if they've recently lost their 'pet'? [Anyway, 'pidgeon' is the old, archaic spelling for 'pigeon'.] And what is a normal size for a pigeon? And how would the fact of it having a name help you if you found it? Birds don't respond to their names like dogs, or do they? And would you really recognise it, anyhow, from the whole description? We can smile — yet there's a poignancy there too, and you can quite easily believe that Shrigley did actually find this rather pathetic notice on a tree, and that possibility makes it touching and sad, and you feel a little guilty for laughing...)

It would take a hundred blogposts to describe all these Shrigleyisms. Just type 'David Shrigley' into Google Images if you want to see the real things (or rather the reproductions of the real things). Myself, I think they're brilliant, and they make me smile, and they make me think — but they make me wince too.

Later, walking through London, Shrigleyesque images seemed to pop up everywhere: in stick-man signs, in shop windows, in street furniture. A little of Shrigley's sideways view of life had obviously rubbed off on me.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Sounds wonderful Robert. Now that I am deaf I would need to be very near the front. Once I went with a friend to see Oscar Petersen. We didn't book and we were allowed to sit at the back of the stage - very near to the keyboard. This was at the old Birmingham Sympony Hall. I have never forgotten the magical experience. These things stay with you don't they?

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, may such experiences stay with us for always, Pat... They are what life's about.

George said...

What a great day in London! You obviously enjoyed it to the hilt. The Shrigley exhibit sounds delightfully odd and offbeat. I haven't been to the Hayward Gallery, but I've often found some offbeat but interesting exhibits at the Tate Modern.

Susan Scheid said...

What a wonderful (and QUITE varied) day. And isn't it interesting how a compelling and individual view of the world like Shrigley's sticks with one afterward, so, as you say, you started to see Shrigleyisms everywhere? I love the very idea of that.

Dominic Rivron said...

The concert sounds like it was Goode. The pi(d)geon poster is an old favourite of mine.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, it was a great day, George. That Shrigley exhibition was fun.

Thanks for your comment, Susan. I'm still half-Shrigleyed, and am seeing oversized tea cups and headless animals everywhere.

Dominic, thanks for the pun.

Ruth said...

The concert is quite vibrant in your telling. As for Shrigley, he's new to me, and I can see why you would be seeing them everywhere. It is a twist on looking closely, with irony, humor and poignancy. Great post!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, that's it, Ruth — irony, humour, poignancy, and a sense of the macabre. I like the fact that the humour (albeit black) trumps the despair.

Friko said...

Lucky you, a day of culture.
London is a lon way away for me now.

The Solitary Walker said...

A day of culture, Friko, and now back in the sticks. I must say, though, I found London frightful. The unsympathetic juxtaposition of old Wren churches and modern Brutalist buildings jars the very soul.