David Shrigley Private View at Stephen Friedman Gallery
David Shrigley Private View at Stephen Friedman Gallery

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David Shrigley Private View at Stephen Friedman Gallery

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It’s hard to write an article about the work of an artist who explained, in interview with the Guardian in 2014, “Because I make work that is image and text, it doesn’t really need any explanation… It diminishes the work to add text to it – it’s self-descriptive.”

I’m inclined to agree. Shrigley’s work is perhaps uniquely compact, unpretentious and self-explanatory. The cartoons he’s famous for often contain speech, which can add an element of social or political commentary to the piece in question. Even on this score, though, Shrigley is reluctant to impose grand themes onto his viewing audience - “Your response is the correct response to the work, whatever that may be or whatever my intention was”. This – to a reviewer – feels a lot like permission to react organically to his newest exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery.

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David Shrigley's new series constitutes a return to his classic cynicism, coupled with his equally familiar - and sometimes touching - naivety. Text remains a key element of the work, but tends to constitute labels – ‘MIRROR’, above a knowlingly childish, glittery rectangle – or tongue-in-cheek imperatives; ‘TOLERATE NOTHING’ accompanies a bright pink, wobbly fist. The tone of Shrigley’s work has always been flippant, provocative, cajoling, reliant on satire and one established form or another to propel itself forward from.

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This time, Shrigley has turned his satirical eye to Optical Art, using acrylic paint and oil stick. These pieces, and their use of materials, hover somewhere between painting and drawing, and allow Shrigley to keep his 'childish' style while projecting it to a much larger scale than his fans are used to seeing. The oil stick mimics his characteristic pencil lines and renders ridiculous the smooth trompe l'oiel of the 1960s movement, especially when applied to his favourite subjects of mundanity and human idiosyncrasies. The tropes of Op Art are distilled until they become ludicrous: wonky right-angles approaching the centre of the canvas from all sides culminate in a black diamond shape, inscribed ‘LOOK AT THIS’.

It’s a good example of what makes some of Shrigley’s work so charming. It’s hard to tell whether he’s mocking himself – his shaky hand, his self-undermining, ‘literal’ interpretation of a genre – or the genre itself, reduced to reveal less than the sum of its parts.

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If he’s courting anything, it’s ambiguity. He knows we know he knows how to use a ruler. ‘TOLERATE NOTHING’, mentioned above, plays a similar game to ‘LOOK AT THIS’. We recognise the blueprint it’s riffing off – propaganda/ resistance posters – and initially, it might look like a divisive jibe about the all-encompassing anger of activists. On second consideration, though, it occurs to me that Shrigley is, again, the real victim of his own satire, mocking ‘his’ ignorance of specific issues. Alternatively, it’s a genuine comment on, say, the state of current affairs, human rights – EVERYTHING! – and a desperate gesture of resistance when the fight feels overwhelmingly like it’s coming from all sides, as it might well do.

To learn more about Shrigley's work, or to buy his edition 'Brass Tooth', click here.

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