The first major survey show of British artist David Shrigley in Australia has opened at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne. The Glasgow-based artist and Turner Prize finalist presents David Shrigley: Life and Life Drawing, new and recent work encompassing drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, animated video, artist books and multiples and a new sculptural commission titled General Store.
At the exhibition’s centre is Shrigley’s Turner Prize work, Life Model 2012. This participatory installation mimics the ritual of the life drawing class, comprising a large sculpture of a plinth-bound naked man surrounded by a field of chairs and easels. While the cartoon-like figure occasionally blinks and pees into a bucket, gallery visitors are invited to sit, observe and draw, with the subsequent work displayed on surrounding walls. Shrigley‘s gentle ‘taking the piss’ of this core convention of art school pedagogy couples with the impossible task he sets the audience (the ungainly, grotesque model resists any attempt at elegant or even adequate capture) to provide an emblematic window into Shrigley‘s body of work.
Likewise, Beginning, middle and end 2009, displays his persistent concerns of creative process and production, and his gleeful embrace of scatological humour; over two tonnes of clay have been rolled out into a ‘clay sausage’, which sits in a graphic, snaking squiggle in the gallery space, where it will slowly dry and crack over the course of the exhibition.
‘People are afraid of drawing, usually because they feel they don’t have the requisite craft skills; obviously that’s never held me back’, Shrigley told an interviewer after his Turner prize nomination. Amateurishly rendered as they may be, his large wall-spanning drawing installations are both visually and conceptually enthralling. Their spare, crude style and snipped, deadpanned narratives are provocative and poignant, a relentless and darkly humorous reflection on the absurdities and anxieties of everyday life, our constant bumping up against the possibility of failure. His ‘comic endeavour’ is, like all good jokes, deeply transgressive, anarchic and cut through, but his body of work is also testament to the redemptive power of the human gesture and sustained, cumulative practice.
The NGV has produced a standalone publication, David Shrigley: Life and Life Drawing, focusing exclusively on Life Model, to accompany the exhibition. The publication includes responses from a selection of artists, critics and audiences members including Will Self, Justin Clemens, Chris Kraus, Anastasia Klose and Jess Johnson, along with NGV curators Max Delany and Serena Bentley.