David Shrigley’s “Brain Activity”

The first major show in the UK of David Shrigley’s work at the Hayward Gallery is exciting, not least of all because of the variety of mediums in the exhibition. From animations to sculpture, framed drawings to paintings, one really gets a sense of the artist’s mind and ability to bring his outrageous and humorous concepts to life.




When you walk into the show, a headless taxidermy ostrich greets the viewer. It is rather unsettling, as is the fact that it is the same size as the artist! It begs the question, what happened to his head?




The everyday life pieces are fascinating, from ceramic glazed boots – which look real – to an animation of a light switch being turned on and off. Shrigley brings significance to the mundane, making us pause to think about the objects and actions surrounding us daily which we overlook, as visceral as they are.




The death room is appealing as the artist makes light of the morbid and inevitable. The Jack Russell taxidermy – used on the advertisements for this show – is startling in real life. A gravestone which has a list inscribed into it, including the words “aspirin” and “bread” is in keeping with the common thread of things easily overlooked and, as the artist said, “…all information can be jumbled, put in the wrong place and suddenly it starts to mean something else.”




The drawings require some thinking to enjoy, as each one is cerebrally challenging; the images themselves are flat, made with simple lines and few gestures, but the accompanying text in each one is what really makes one stop and reflect. They are impressive not in technical ability, but in punch lines. There is humour, wit and sarcasm in each of the 162 framed drawings.




Finally, the sculptures possess the same whimsical nature of the rest of the works, with a headless squirrel, ceramic cake slice and impressive bronze walnut. Of course, the giant tea cup with real tea and milk (no sugar) is very amusing. The insect sculptures occupy a quarter of a large room in the show and are engaging, if not frightening.




So is David Shrigley more of an idea man, or can he pull off these grandiose concepts in polished, finished works of art which speak for themselves? In my opinion, although he isn’t the most technically apt of artists, in a world where brainy, well considered art isn’t what sells or is popular amongst the trendy, big name artists of today, his work is a huge sigh of relief. For anyone who wants to be amused as well as challenged both visually and mentally, this show is perfect.






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