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Eloquent Chaos

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David Shrigley, Untitled drawings 2004–14, inkjet prints, wheat paste, 330 x 1450 cm (overall), installation view, National Gallery of Victoria.

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Seriousness can act as an obstacle to truth whereas humour can create pathways directly to its core.

This is a reasonable conclusion to walk away with after spending time amongst Glasgow artist David Shrigley’s body of work. The National Gallery of Victoria hosted Shrigley’s first major show in 2014-15, where I stumbled across his bizarrely poignant drawings. Shrigley, a graduate from The Glasgow School of Art, is prolific, delivering his dark scrawl to the people through publications and an impressive international resume of exhibitions. He has pasted his drawings over walls, magazine covers and balloons and has strangely accumulated a cult following of tattooed fans. When viewed on mass, these black inked works create an insight into the human stream of consciousness capturing the banality and confusion of daily life.

Viewing Shrigley’s text describing daily emotional peaks and troughs and his strange images of everyday situations re-imagined, we are not transported out of ourselves, but rather, brought into contact with the familiar world around us. Shrigley gives voice to broken thoughts and ideas, metaphors and hyperbolic cartoons. In his world a taxi-ride becomes a swan transporting an insect and the workplace is ludicrous experiment in personal pain tolerance. Shrigley plays with very real emotions - frustration and desire, dappled with the urge to find personal freedom in restricted civilisation.

In a similar tone to The Absurdists, who through creative means proclaimed the unknowable, Shrigley’s work points out the seriousness of art and life. His work challenges the stuffy confines of the art world and organised daily routines. The disposable nature of his drawings; black ink on white paper drawn quickly and on mass, reinforces the position we are in. How dare we spend any more time on our fleeting perceptions?

The irony is that through his attempt to ridicule conventions and contradict traditional approaches to art, Shrigley’s drawings deliver a resolved and meaningful message. In between the ups and downs of a person’s life lies a great deal of unremarkable time. Historically, the still life painting served as a window into this day-to-day territory, sketching out the space between the agony and the ecstasy of the human condition. Shrigley’s work can be seen in this way, a still life of conscious experience, concerning itself with the moment to moment goings on of the mind.

It seems counter-intuitive to write academically about Shrigley’s work, an act that would turn it into the very thing that it stands apart from. Like abstract systems of knowledge, such as Zen Buddhism, its meaning is best derived when just out of focus. It is not meant to be pinned down. Somehow, as we float between Shrigley’s thoughts and feelings, the strange and humorous drawings, we are comforted by our bleak position in the universe. We are not alone in our individual spirals of crazy….look there’s us! On the wall.

Life is meaningless.

We are a never-ending disconnected stream of contradictory sentiments.

Emotions are futile.

Boredom will drown you.

Accept the world.

Ice cream is good.