There are many puzzling things about the Scottish art world. Some float through the mind rather randomly causing nothing more than an idle sigh of confusion. Others provoke cold sweats, indignant fist-shaking and proposals to storm the premises of various institutions.
Dave Shrigley’s tangential position within all this is particularly odd. Considering his output and his critical reputation, why hasn’t he been offered a solo show at one of the bigger galleries in Scotland? Possibly it has something to do with a bogus notion that his work, by dint of its grimly pleasurable humour, is too ‘lite’ to be granted ‘serious critical treatment’. Or perhaps the converse—his tone is just too misanthropic and sour for some. Either way this failure of artistic vision is a painful mistake. Five minutes with his new publication The Book of Shrigley will rob you of this notion and propel you to dispatch a curt letter of disapproval to our enlightened guardians of the arts.
This is bleak, disturbing fare, painfully funny in the truest sense. A latter day satirist, Shrigley’s trademark scrawl is as attuned to the topologies of contemporary human folly, misery and anxiety as Swift or Hogarth. By twisted turn hysterical and hysterically funny, Shrigley’s work is studded with pain, absurdity and tragedy.
The compendium of drawings culled from years of one man and his pen (one gripe—why none of his photographs or sculptures?) depict an apocalyptic, but strangely, staring out of my East End flat in Glasgow, disturbingly accurate, albeit sideways, invocation of surviving in modern (or should it be medieval?) Britain. Grimly funny postcards from hell, Shrigley’s world is populated by torn, discarded lives, where sons impale their fathers, where ‘rough beasts’ prowl, where everyone suffers from psychological implosion and ravaged internal organs. I’ve already photocopied his desperate image of ‘me’ staring at my computer screen with the words ‘you have no fucking emails’ jabbing into a (my) lonely, desperate head.
Shrigley has always literally and metaphorically stood out form the crowd. During the huff, bluff and puff of Scottish neoconceptualism in the 1990’s, his sickly scrawl was an awkward presence within the oftenbland, Ikea / idea art internationalism. Against the grain, his work never looked like it could have been made anyway. It never appeared to have been culled from the pages of Frieze, Flash Art or Artforum . At last something to be thankful for.
John Beagles is an artist and lecturer in the Centre for Visual and Cultural Studies at Edinburgh College of Art