An interview with David Shrigley

Mike Chavez-Dawson, curator of HOW ARE YOU FEELING? delves into the mind of David Shrigley.

MCD: How are you feeling?
DS: OK. I just had a bowl of porridge.

MCD: Do you still feel being an artist is a calling?
DS: I think it is for me, but I couldn’t speak for anyone else.

MCD: What was your first artistic epiphany?
DS: Perhaps going to the Tate Gallery (what is now Tate Britain) when I was about 14 years old. There was a show of Jean Tinguely (the Swiss kinetic sculptor). I guess this was my first taste of contemporary art.

MCD: What were your first feelings towards undertaking a show at Cornerhouse, Manchester?
DS: I think Manchester is a good town for me to do a show in. I did a show in London earlier in the year, so now it’s time to head north nearer to the place of my birth. I was born in Macclesfield. Did I tell you that?

MCD: The thematic of HOW ARE YOU FEELING?  is multi-layered but has obvious associations with ‘self-help’ and ‘psycho-therapy’. How much of this has shaped your approach?
DS: I was interested in the possibility that the works could have some kind of therapeutic value. I felt like the audience might get more from the art to this end if they were able to interact with it. So most of the works I’m making require the audience to participate in order for them to function.

MCD: Your works have an uncanny knack of being applicable to any given format…
DS: I make cartoons of a certain sort that people find amusing. If I made a different type of work it probably wouldn’t get put on greetings cards, etc. Beyond that I’m willing to give most things a try, so I’ve ended up making music and opera and adverts and whatnot. I’ve set a precedent for doing lots of different things, so now that precedent is set some people see me as some kind of Renaissance man. I think part of it is that I am unencumbered by craft skills; if I was a really good painter, for example, I’d probably be less inclined to make work in different media. But I’m not a good painter. I’m a terrible painter.

MCD: For me the execution of your work is never undermined by its content, is this something you work at or does in come naturally?
DS: I guess it comes naturally. I tend to make work intuitively without much preparation. That’s just the way I do it.

MCD: Having worked together with you on various projects over the years, your methodology of ‘intuitive’ without much ‘preparation’ has certainly been a leap of faith, has it always worked for you and would you recommend it?
DS: It’s hard to say how I got to the point where I’m at. I’ve never had a strategy. I’ve just learned what I’ve learned from experience. But I think there is a recipe for success as an artist and it is thus: 2 parts self-confidence, 1 part arrogance, 1 part stupidity. If one can formulate these measures within oneself then one has a better chance of success.

MCD: If you weren’t an artist what would you be or like to do?
DS: I’ve given various answers to this question over the years. The one I currently favour is dentist.

MCD: You have done a series of sculptural works of loose teeth – usually molars, there is even a giant brass piece, and then the series with multiple holes drilled in them, is this a sensitive issue for you?
DS: Dreaming about bad stuff happening to your teeth is a classic sign of anxiety. So perhaps the works I’ve made with teeth are about anxiety. My teeth are actually pretty healthy. But I do sometimes suffer from anxiety.

MCD: There are going to be anxiety-busting works in this show, can you elaborate?
DS: I’m planning that all the works will be helpful in this respect, but I’m not a doctor or a therapist so I can offer no guarantee of success. I’d like to have a place within the show where people can take a nap. I think that will be helpful.

MCD: You are tackling performance within this exhibition, how do you envisage the outcome?
DS: I want to do something different from what I normally do in the exhibition space and have a bit of fun. I would like to make something that the audience can interact with, so that the audience can participate in the performance. I’m thinking along the lines of a performance acted by volunteers, so anyone can take part. I’m not quite sure of the logistics just yet, but we’ll see how it works out.

MCD: So with these new works the viewer will become integral to the completion of them: no viewers actively taking part = incomplete work?
DS: I suppose so. These will be artworks that need you. It’s good to be needed.

MCD: What engages you about the potential of performance?
DS: I was involved in creating an opera last year and that was my first taste of live performance. I think what I like about it is the different ways to tell a story; most of my work employs or suggests some kind of narrative, so live performance seems like a thing I need to try.

MCD: What are the top three questions that you have been asked – that might be useful to gaining an insight into your psyche?
DS: Whenever anyone talks about gaining an insight into my psyche I get nervous. Why do they want to look into my psyche? I’m boring. I really don’t think my psyche is interesting at all. If I was Charles Manson or someone like that then I could understand people being interested: but I’m not. Sometimes I feel like my artwork hasn’t come from me but from somewhere else. It’s like something I found. It belongs to me, but it didn’t come from me; I’m just the one who dug it up and showed it to people.

David Shrigley: HOW ARE YOU FEELING? is on show in Galleries 1, 2 & 3  between Sat 6 Oct – Sun 6 Jan. More information can be found here.