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:
LOST GREY + WHITE PIDGEON WITH BLACK BITS. NORMAL SIZE. A BIT MANGY LOOKING. DOES NOT HAVE A NAME. CALL 257 1964
(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.