Line dance graces art museum walls
October 24, 2007
ASPEN David Shrigley routinely turns down the offers he receives to appear at conferences of illustrators. And when they ask why he won’t attend, he gives what seems to be a rock-solid reason: “Because I’m not an illustrator; I’m a fine artist.”Shrigley, a resident of Glasgow, Scotland, who grew up in Leicestershire, England, is hardly hung up on categories. In fact, the tall, laid-back 39-year-old is hard-pressed to name his own place on the artistic spectrum. “I guess I see myself as a conceptual artist,” he shrugged. “I don’t see myself as any other kind of artist. I’m not a figurative or objective artist.”Still, it’s easy to see why those who are not Shrigley place him in the illustration field. Shrigley has, in fact, been contributing a weekly cartoon to the British newspaper, The Guardian, since 2005. He has designed T-shirts for a music festival in Scotland and CD covers for the San Francisco band Deerhoof’s recent album, “Friend Opportunity.” Much of his work consists of books, featuring his black-and-white drawings.But Shrigley, who took a two-year art and design course in Leicester before attending the Glasgow School of Art, says he has been influenced almost exclusively by fine art, and not at all by illustrations or cartoons. In fact, his cartoons are not very cartoonish, as they lack a connecting narrative from one week to the next.
“They function as cartoons,” he said. “But they’re a bit more oblique than most cartoons in a newspaper. People write letters to the editor page: ‘What is this all about?'”I like the way cartoons communicate: speech bubbles and think bubbles and panels. But I’m looking at them as an outsider. I’m kind of a left-field cartoonist, if I’m a cartoonist at all.”There is, however, a cartoonish quality to the untitled installation Shrigley has created for the Aspen Art Museum’s To the Wall exhibit. The bulk of the work are a series of black-and-white lines that make a graphic design of the museum walls. Written in a prominent spot is the phrase, “Meaningless lines.” On the door leading to the museum’s offices, he has printed the word, “Door.” Keeping an eye out from above is a dreadlocked doll, whom Shrigley referred to as “the gatekeeper.” As we spoke, Shrigley climbed onto a scaffolding to spread some orange and red paint on an upper wall.”I think that’s going to be the sun,” he said, a thought not altered at all, even when he began mixing in green and blue tones. “And then I think it’s done.”The strongest intersection between Shrigley’s art, cartoons and Shrigley himself, is the sense of humor. But unlike, say, Bill Keane, who creates the “Family Circus” comic strip, Shrigley isn’t going for the big laughs.
“It’s not comedy,” said Shrigley of his work. “It’s not funny enough to be comedy. I’m not really trying to elicit laughter. Though I tend to. Or at least my work does. Humor, I guess, is the shiver on top of the work.”Shrigley maintains a suspicion of any artist who intends for their work to have a specific response from the viewer. “It’s not like you make art to push buttons for people,” he said. Further, most art is destined for obscurity, with no venue or viewers in mind.”My intention is to get up in the morning and work until I go to bed on something that has the potential to be artwork,” he said.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org