David Shrigley

What could you get from seeing a David Shrigley exhibition in the flesh that you couldn’t get from flicking through one of his many books or weekly cartoons serialised in the Guardian every Saturday? Well the first thing greeting you as you enter London’s Stephen Friedman Galley is a stuffed kitten on its hind legs holding a placard bearing the words “I’m dead”. It’s a suitably deadpan introduction to a show of the Glaswegian artist’s latest work, and the sculpture’s physical presence has an effect quite specific to its location – a vitrine placed in the window looking out to the well-heeled Old Burlington Street behind The Royal Academy of Arts.

Often Shrigley’s sculptural works have been a little disappointing in comparison to the instant gratification of his drawings, but in this instance they possess the same light touch and sense of the absurd that makes his cartoon-style works on paper so appealing. In another room, in another vitrine, is a handbell accompanied by a sign reading “Not to be rung again until Jesus returns”. Behind it, propped up against the wall, is a canvas bearing a life-size, crudely rendered painting of a red door with the word “Door” on it. In a corridor space, a wonky sign hanging from the ceiling bears the words “Hanging sign”. They work as literal-minded, slightly childish visual gags that you’ll either warm to or be deeply irritated by. In a slightly different vein, a slide projection on the wall shows a hand obsessively flicking a light switch on and off – it could be an art-world joke about Martin Creed’s ultra minimal Turner Prize contribution in 2001, or it could just be a simple little animation.

For fans of the drawings, there is a whole wall of them jumbled together and jostling for attention in the first room of the gallery. You don’t get the luxury of sitting and leisurely perusing them that the books provide – it’s a case of craning your neck or crouching down, or as was the case at the massively crowded opening, shoving people out of the way. They’re always worth a proper look though. Shrigley combines a deliberately coarse, sketchy style of illustration with a faux-naive writing sensibility, reflecting oddly familiar moments of alienation, horror, or just plain silliness. The drawings and words can often work independently from each other, but combined they’re always greater than the sum of their parts.

I’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t tickled by Shrigley’s particular brand of dark humour, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who can successfully imitate it, although many have tried.

Visit http://www.iconeye.com to view this article in context, published December 2007.