A storm of visitors embellishes London’s Hayward Gallery since it has opened the doors for David Shrigley’s exhibition Brain Activity – and it turns out to be a unique experience as soon as you pass the threshold. As you step into the lift which takes you to the top floor, you hear David Shrigley’s retrospection of a monkey: “Do you remember those days when we would copulate whenever we liked and defecate whenever we chose?”, a dark voice asks through the speakers. It is the perfect introduction for the exhibition which you’re about to enter.
Entering Shrigley’s space of absurdity, you see adults and children parading along the walls – scratching their heads, chuckling and smiling. Walking through the first room and looking at the paintings you realise that you may recognise his work without explicitly knowing him as a famous artist. David Shrigley has been very successful over the last two decades without consciously being noticed by most of us. So successful that his simple scrabbles are manifested on T-shirts, CD covers and postcards.
Shrigley produces some of the most humorous work in contemporary art with as little as simple marker pens. He is best known for his crudely rendered drawings, which make witty comments on everyday life. Inspired by social situations from daily life and relationships, he reflects on certain ironic and awkward moments, we all find ourselves in every now and then.
Gaining fame as a cartoonist for The Guardian and New Statesman, Shrigley extended his artistic output beyond simple drawings to paintings, photography, clumpy sculptures and animated films. His scrabbled doodles are often accompanied by simplified narrative structures, in which the audience recognises his main trademark: Insignificance.
One of my favourite drawings is a picture showing a glass cabinet with the messy written headline “museums are full of crap”. Being an artist himself, Shrigley pulls his own leg and criticises those who used to interpret the world into a meaningless piece of art, which was simply created to make people smile.
The exhibition depicts Shrigley’s idea that even the most serious topics can’t keep their significance in an age of irony. Evanescence is a main aspect in the artist’s work. He shows a list of groceries that has made its way in a gravestone from someone’s shopping list: “Bread, milk, cornflakes, aspirin, biscuits”. Next to it visitors see a stiffed dog, upholding a poster with the message “I’m dead.”
What exactly forms the relationship between the medium itself and the message on it? Shrigley makes his audience laugh through playing with our worst fears in a joyful way. And he plays with the simplest forms of communication by using signs. In our daily life we often know instinctively the meaning of such objects by looking at its forms and colours. And that’s the point: Shrigley’s art teaches us not to add too much meaning into the obvious. It makes us realize that in our world today, we sometimes think in too complicated ways and unlearn the simple art of joy.
Through its outrageous simplicity, David Shrigley forces us to ask the big question: Is this art? It seems like a little child could draw the doodle-like paintings and messy handwritten texts. However, Shrigley adds context and reveals the fears and imperfections of our ordinary life through nothing else but ordinary art.
Therefore it would be ridiculous to judge an art exhibition too strictly, which is simply meant to be funny. Even if his insignificant work won’t change the world, it allows us to step out of our everyday routine and take our fears of life easy for a moment – and this is why he deserves his popularity.
David Shrigley’s Brain Activity is on display at London’s Hayward Gallery until 13 May 2012.