David Shrigley: “Do What You Want to Do, Try Not to Get Bored”

The British artist on his latest book, the joys of self-publishing and why comedy is so important.

David Shrigley
David Shrigley at the Shrig Shop. Image credit: Sofus Graae

By Alice Godwin

David Shrigley is doing exactly what he wants when it comes to his latest book, I Am The Jug You Are The Glass (2022). Self-published through Shrig Shop in Copenhagen—which was founded with gallerist and friend Nicolai Wallner in 2021 and inspired by Keith Haring’s Pop Shop in 1980s New York—the book features three hundred black and white drawings from the past five years, filled with Shrigley’s distinctive sense of deadpan humor. The entire book is rendered in Shrigley’s familiar, childlike scrawl, from the publication details down to the barcode.

I Am the Jug, You Are the Glass by David Shrigley
I Am the Jug, You Are the Glass by David Shrigley. Published by David Shrigley and Shrig Shop.
Image credit: Sofus Graae

A lot has happened over the past half decade. In 2020, Shrigley was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II, which he found “unexpected and quite a strange thing to happen, but kind of positive.” Then there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought travel grinding to a halt. Shrigley enjoyed the opportunity to stay at home in rural Devon in south-west England and draw all day. Through this extraordinary period, Shrigley thinks his humor has not really changed. Instead, “I’ve realized the value of humor. I value it more now probably.”

This book offers a dose of wry Shrigley humor, which has garnered an international following. “I create a certain kind of comedy that people respond to,” Shrigley says. “Comedy is important, people like to laugh, but ultimately, I don’t know why people like it…you have to ask them!” For Shrigley, an artwork has to be for the artist first and foremost, “because if you don’t like it, you can’t expect anyone else to.” Shrigley acknowledges that, at times, his humor might be a little close to the bone, but it doesn’t necessarily matter what you do in the studio: “What matters is who you show the work to and when you show it to them.”

Portrait of David Shrigley
Portrait of David Shrigley at the Shrig Shop. Image credit: Sofus Graae

Though far from the first publication for the Turner Prize-nominated artist, Shrigley has relished the freedom of designing and editing this book himself—a process he intends to continue in the future. “Publishing with a bigger publisher is a bit of a pain in the arse,” he explains, “because you have to do it on their terms and jump through a lot of hoops.” When it comes to organizing an exhibition of his drawings, Shrigley has learned to hand over responsibility to the galleries he works with: “I always end up really surprised at what people choose. They don’t choose the things that I think are brilliant and amazing.” But this book is exactly the way he wants. In the past, Shrigley would lay out photocopies of all his drawings on a big table or the floor: “Now I do it on a computer, which is much easier and more sensible, but it’s still fun.”

Book spread from I Am the Jug, You Are the Glass by David Shrigley
Spread from David Shrigley’s I Am the Jug, You Are the Glass. Image credit: Sofus Graae

For Shrigley, a book is a way to tie his drawings together in a cohesive narrative or structure. “It’s a way to give meaning to lots of individual parts,” he says, “which are then presented as a whole. That’s what I like about it.” When it comes to the meaning of his drawings, Shrigley is happy for people to make up their own minds: “It is about whatever the reader thinks it’s about.”

Shrigley has previously said that he began to draw because he had a lot to say, and drawing was the most direct way to say it. These days, Shrigley reflects, “I don’t know if I necessarily have a lot to say, but I have a need to say it, whatever it is. There’s definitely a difference there.” Shrigley’s drawings tussle with the resonance of words and images, and the slippage between the two, purposefully never using one to describe the other.

Shrig Shop in Copenhagen
Shrig Shop, exterior at night. Image credit: Anders Sundberg

While the drawings in I Am The Jug You Are The Glass are all black and white, those in another recently published book, Get Your Shit Together, are in color (“so people can choose between the two or have both!”). For Shrigley, “there are things you can do with color works that you can’t do with black and white and vice versa. I swap between the two because you want to be able to examine everything.” By comparison, Shrigley suggests his black and white drawings are less self-contained and take less time to make than his color works. Their text is also potentially longer. When it comes to choosing between the two, Shrigley considers, “It’s a question of whatever works. Do what you want to do. Try not to get bored.”

I Am the Jug, You Are the Glass (€35) is available at Shrig Shop is on Tullinsgade 3, Copenhagen V, 2300, Denmark.

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