David Shrigley Shows 'Brain Activity' at Hayward Gallery, London

David Shrigley, Untitled, 2012. Ink on paper. © The artist, courtesy Yvon Lambert


British artist David Shrigley is for the first time in a major retrospective exhibition in the UK to be seen at Hayward Gallery. ‘Brain Activity’ covers works from the mid-1990s to the present day and shows what Shrigley is all about: he likes to play—with our ideas, associations, and reactions.


Shrigley’s distinctive mark is his handwriting—all capitals—in black ink on whatever medium he is working with. Most well-known are his quirky drawings of which the show features 117 new works done in 2012. Each one creates a tragicomic narrative, shows a misfortunate situation of everyday life in its blank and intimate humanness, or just puzzles.



Installation view of David Shrigley: brain Activity at Hayward Gallery, 'Ostrich', 2009. Taxidermy. © The artist, courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; photo credit by Linda Nylind


Another drawing depicts Magritte’s pipe and the caption ‘THIS IS NOTHING’. Nice pun, Shrigley. The questioning of representation is a recurrent thread in his work. As is the uncanniness in the encounter with seemingly familiar objects and the sudden feeling that something is wrong here.


Or is it common that ostrich have no head when they have stuck it in sand too often?



David Shrigley, Imagine the Green is Red, 1997. Photograph in an edition of ten. 300x300mm. © The artist, courtesy Galerie Nicolai Wallner


Other art historical references remind of conceptual ideas, when a red sign on a green meadow says ‘IMAGINE THE GREEN IS RED’.



David Shrigley, Gravestone, 2008. Gold leaf on granite. © The artist, courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London


In this light and humorous way of addressing most fundamental thoughts of art history and life, Shrigley also approaches death. There is a granite tombstone listing in gold leaf letters a common shopping list.


Shrigley says he likes lists and putting them out of context to see how this changes their meaning. In this case, it unveils the banality of day-to-day life in the face of death.



Installation view of David Shrigley: Brain Activity at the Hayward Gallery, Dog, 2010. Taxidermy, wood and acrylic. © The artist, courtesy of Hayward Gallery Photography: Linda Nylind


Or a cute Jack Russell terrier, displayed as taxidermy, affirming his own death in an unsolvable conundrum of speaking the unspeakable.


When I think about Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst, the shocking depiction of mortality  has been a popular issue in last century's British art. For me, David Shrigley's black humor is a welcome contrast to their drama.



David Shrigley, Untitled, 2012. Ink on paper. © The artist, courtesy Yvon Lambert


Shrigley makes me question what I see and thereby points to the functioning of the power of signs and written language—in making me follow the information “Exhibition continues” to discover that there is a tiny bronze figure standing outside the gallery space visible only through the glass door to the terrace. And that is what I like.


by Julia Loeschl




David Shrigley 'Brain Activity' at Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre, London

Through 13th May 2012



Installation view: Maurizio Cattelan: All, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, November 4, 2011 - January 22, 2012 Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Carsten Höller: 'Soma'; Installation view; Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, 2010 © VG Bild-Kunst 2010 / Carsten Höller, Foto: Attilio Maranzano


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