Conquering Cartoons David Shrigley


A show of new work by David Shrigley is open now through October 23 at Anton Kern Gallery. The exhibition includes dozens of his simple pen-and-paint drawings—what the artist is best known for, and medium in which he works most frequently-as well as sculpture and an animated short film.

There’s the sense that Shrigley’s work has conquered each possible exhibition surface at Anton Kern, inside and out.


Shrigley has made several small bronze sculptures, including rings, hooks, a bell and a pointing hand. (This last one includes a screw in the back, so one can substitute it in for the hood ornament on a car.) Some of the small bronze pieces reside near the reception desk, where visitors tempted to try on the rings and things will hopefully be prevented from pocketing them. A number of upside-down, impractical hooks have been installed in the front wall nearest the gallery entrance, and above them the word “GOD” and a downturned hand. The hooks are impractical, but attached to the wall there’s also a handle for an invisible door and one where visitors can—though probably shouldn’t—leash their dogs.

A number of the bronze pieces are installed where one wouldn’t expect to look. The word “IT” is screwed into the gallery floor, as in “Don’t trip over IT!”  What is supposed to be a “little atom” the size of a marble shooter is fixed in the back wall two feet from the ceiling.

Shrigley’s drawings are posted along the side and back walls of the main exhibition space. At its center is a set of ten pairs of glazed ceramic boots lined up on a pedestal, just larger than life size. The animated film—in which a disembodied, unindentified hand writes a sick note to “Mrs Teacher”—occupies a smaller back room.

And the show spills onto the sidewalk as well: Outside the gallery hangs a sign that reads, “It’s all going very well no problems at all and on the other side It’s all going very badly it’s a terrible disaster.” It’s effectively the first work visitors see as they come in as well as the last one on their way out—both the first and last laugh.

For Shrigley, making his darkly funny drawings and sculptures is the first step. Thinking about them comes next.

Preparing for exhibitions of new work, Shrigley makes roughly 30 drawings a day for a period of time, then edits down to keep perhaps one in five of what he made. For his show at Anton Kern, Shrigley culled drawings from a set he made over the course of a month, and added five others he had previously made and saved.

The few dozen drawings that line the gallery walls are in Shrigley’s signature style, somewhere between line drawing and comics. Among the works exhibited, there is a red, “Speed Racer”-style helmet paired with the text “Don’t touch my head”; a scratchy pen drawing of a elephant with man’s face; a robot clubbing a baby seal. In another drawing, a group of colorful circles could be a basic study of Kandinsky’s Several Circles, if Kandinsky owned a dry cleaner; the circles are captioned, “Dear Sir, we were unable to remove your stains. Sincerely, the cleaners.”

He insists that the works don’t have any theme to them “at all” and it’s all rather scatological.

“There’s not a lot of drawing in them,” Shrigley said, referring to the simplicity of his style and the amount of text and image on the page. “I make them very quickly and I think about them for a long time afterward.”

Besides the bronze pieces and boots, Shrigley is also showing a human rib cage made of fabric- and plaster-coated steel. He’s attracted to the materials he uses for his sculpture because of the minimal mediation. There’s no need to make a model when using a wax-carving process to mold bronze, for example, and with ceramic, “What you make is what you get … you’re working with the actual finished object right from the beginning.”

But why these bells, boots and rib cages? Shrigley said the bronze objects all have a sensual aspect, and the boots have a formality that appeals to him. But he hastens to assign specific meanings or explanations to the objects.

“I think all of the decisions that I make are made very intuitively, albeit slowly,” Shrigley said. “I don’t really want things to have a very defined meaning … I want people’s relationship to the work to be the same as mine, which is just to have an intuitive interest in an object.

The pieces in this show, and Shrigley’s work in general, is aligned with his desire to provide the viewer with only enough material to create a story behind the art object. Besides the little text or imagery the artist provides, the viewer is always invited to assume that there is a metaphor or reference being made, which further expands the narrative.

Shrigley likens his approach to film purists who believe in “show not tell.” “It’s about [the viewer] experiencing stories, creating stories themselves,” he said. “The more you’re able to facilitate that happening, the better the story is.”