|King of Books - David Shrigley
Interview by Maxwell Williams NYC
Sometimes during an interview it seems as if a baby is running the tape recorder. And oftentimes interviews end up sounding like two infants not listening to each other at all.
Not so with David Shrigley, an English-born Scottish artist with a genial demeanor and a head full of quirky ideas about art and life. With all his pots on the boil - he's a leading figure in the Glasgow art scene, a music video animator for Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Blur, and he seems to come out with a new art book every couple weeks - an interview with Shrigley means hopscotching from one matter to another in the blink of an eye, each of the topics getting more and more absurd and unhinged. So maybe it's more like two infants are talking to each other, only this time they're listening intently for the next life-affirming coo.
Not to say that Shrigley himself is infantile. He's far too smart and funny. Well, babies are funny, too, but what we mean to say is that David Shrigley is the kind of guy you can have a few beers with and not notice the time passing by. We first met up with Shrigley around 3pm at a diner. We were hungry, so we had a nice grilled cheese sandwich. Shrigley had a decaf coffee with lots of cream. We started chatting about soccer and literature and his hometown and his most recent book Who I Am And What I Wan t and the animated short of the same name that he recently made for the BBC. Next thing you know, we're drinking beers with his hooligan friend Malcolm, who is sporting a black eye. After a few more beers we were all getting along nicely, like infants in a sandbox.
Obviously humor plays a huge role in what you do...
David Shrigley: I've never been the class clown, but I think that humor is very important in life. Humor is just the sugar that you put on top of the message to make it sweeter. Things are so much more accessible if they are funny. It's a good starting point. If you can amuse yourself, that's the best thing. Always, when I create my own work, I'm alone, or at least nobody is looking at what I'm doing, so I'm just speaking to myself most of the time.
Do you giggle to yourself?
DS: Yeah, I laugh. I think the best kind of humor is the kind of humor where you don't quite understand what you're laughing at - you intuitively know that there's something there that's both funny and 'other.' Everything should be humorous on some level. Every part of our understanding of the world needs to be a humorous one.
You said you were attracted to the freaks and lowlifes. The weirdoes...
DS: Yeah, I like the freaks. Everybody likes the freaks - I assume they do, anyway. The socially awkward people who won't look you in the eye? They're fascinating.
Are those the people in your art?
DS: Yeah, I suppose so. You've got to have a few of the strange freaks and sociopaths. Also people who look like freaks: big albinos with little Easter Bunny eyes. You want to get a big flashlight and shine it in their sightless pink eyes for your own amusement and watch them blink and cringe. These are the things that I want to do. The social freaks who stutter and are socially shy, you want to ask (them) lots of rapid questions and then don't listen to the answers and then kind of bully them slightly.
Does that mean growing up you were socially awkward?
DS: Yeah, probably. I'm shy and a bit lazy which makes me more shy, because you can't be bothered to make friends. I guess I've gotten over it to a certain extent. I was never quite totally ostracized as a child. I was okay. I've always been bigger than everybody else, so I didn't get picked on, either.
That's true. Nobody can really fuck with you if you're 6'5".
DS: There's always the crazy kids that want to attack you. I've managed to steer clear of violence so far. Sometimes we think too hard about it. Eventually you're going to think the only way to survive in military tactical terms is to make a pre-emptive strike against anybody: 'I don't like the way he's looking at me, so I'm going to stab him in the eye with a fork.' Then you think they might retaliate, so I might just try to kill them: 'Why did you kill this person?' 'I killed them because I've been reading a book on military tactics and I felt I needed to destroy the enemy completely to protect myself.'
You just made an animated short for the BBC. What has attracted you to animation?
DS: Almost ever since I started making books of drawings, people have said to me, 'You should make animations and stuff.' But the problem I've always had with it is that what I do is just make one drawing, and that's it. Whereas animation, as I understood it, was that basically you make one drawing, and then you make four thousand very similar drawings, which is the antithesis of my working method. But I guess I've found a way of being a director and a writer, where other people do all the stuff that takes a long time.
Did you find it really difficult to make that shift, because in your print art it seems like the punch line is there, it's right in front of you, whereas with film it takes a lot longer?
DS: Yeah, it totally does. I think each drawing I make is a narrative that you read top to bottom, left to right, and it's all there. It's contained, you have the pacing - the delivery of the message is all there in that structure. Having to deliver another message with all these other different dimensions to it - time, movement and sound as well - it's really fascinating because you've got so much more to work with, so many more possibilities.
The guy that I did the film with, Chris Shepard, we met about seven years ago. It took us six years before we ever got it together to do something. I guess now I'm starting to understand a little bit more about how you go about writing a script, and what you can do. I really love the process, because I'm learning a lot. It feels like I'm first year at art school again.
So how should somebody watch it?
DS: Slightly stoned. A couple of drinks, a good meal, then you can watch it. Smoke a half a joint if you feel that way inclined. Probably don't take magic mushrooms and watch it. Basically, you won't remember having watched it. You'll probably end up looking at the remote control. We've actually made a 35-millimeter print, so you can watch it in the cinema with Dolby Surround Stereo, so I suppose, physically, that's probably the best place to see it, because that's quite an impressive thing. Yeah, I think that's the way to watch it.
Anything for the future?
DS: I've got a clear diary for 2006. I'm going start making another film with Chris Shepard, but I'm going write it from scratch rather than adapt a book.
What about in 2036?
DS: 2036, I'll probably be dead.
Don't say that!
DS: I might be alive, but I'll probably be slowing up a bit, working in the garden. Emptying my colostomy bag over the roses.
You'll be a nice old man, I'm sure.DS: Well, I've got to live for the day. That's the way to do it. So me and (my friend with a black eye) Malcolm are going to go uptown, get a beer, and then we're going to hook up with some other friends later on, eat some food, drink some wine, tell some stories, get some whores, buy some drugs, steal a car. You know, the usual kind of thing.