David Shrigley: A Catalogue of Ideas
What’s the general idea behind What The Hell Are You Doing?
It’s primarily an anthology of my work over the last 18 to 19 years – a greatest hits if you will. Although my idea of what constitute greatest hits tends to differ quite wildly from what other people see. There’s some new work in there and there’s also some unseen stuff collected from things I did for the Guardian. And some other stuff that’s been published in very limited edition books that haven’t been seen very much. There are some sculptural works and also sort of odd photographs of things that I’ve made. It’s quite a mixture, and we spent quite a long time producing it to make sure that it looks nice, nicer than all my other books which are sometimes a little bit hastily rendered.
It does look very nice.
It’s a coffee table book. I suppose it’s the most complete thing that I’ve done, and it’s kind of useful to have that. If it can go on the coffee table then, well you’ve got to put something on the coffee table.
The book’s massive. How did you decide on the arrangement of works?
Most of the books I make are collections of drawings rather than having a narrative, so I kind of realised over the years how things fit together in a visual way rather than sequence of ideas or themes or anything. So I put it together quite intuitively, visually so it had a balance. Then there were all these things that I’d never really thought about before that the publishers were telling me about, like you’ve got to have a strong section at the beginning and a strong section in the middle and a strong section at the end cos when people are in a bookshop that’s what they look at. So I had to bow down to their superior knowledge of how things are put together. But essentially [Canongate] were pretty good actually, for a big publisher, they let me do pretty much what I wanted without too much interference.
Why’s it called Essential? Is this the ultimate book or will there be more?
Yes, there are going to be quite a few more, unless I die. It’s got to be called something that indicates that it’s some kind of best of collection. After much negotiation – I didn’t want to call it anything like that, in fact I didn’t want my name in the title – that was my concession to proper publishing. I kind of wanted it to have a proper title, so What The Hell Are You Doing? will hopefully be what people call it. Rather than The Essential David Shrigley, which seems a bit pompous. I spelled it wrong on the cover. Not completely playing along with the idea.
You’re very much known for your books. Did you start off self-publishing?
Yeah, I left art school in ’91 and that’s when I published my first book. That was just a sort of photocopied pamphlet I made and distributed myself. The first 2 or 3 books were like that. I guess I just wanted to create a forum for my work, where it could be without having to ask anybody else’s permission or support. I just published myself and sold things in the pub.
How did it take off? At what point were you able to live off your art – I assume there was a period of shit jobs?
Yeah, there was probably about 5 years of shit jobs. Then I was commissioned to make a book for a publisher in London and the guy that edited it wrote for an art magazine [it was Frieze], they did a feature in the art magazine, then things started to snowball. I was on the cover of Frieze in October 1995. That was my moment I suppose. And then I started to show with commercial galleries, and sell my work. So I gave up work in ’96. ‘Gave up work’ [laughs]. It’s still hard work! But I haven’t had a ‘proper’ job since 1996.
Do you ever feel like your style has been plagiarised?
I don’t really feel like I’ve got a style to be honest. It’s always something that other people tell me. The work’s more about a certain idea or something that I want to express. I could probably just as easily make the work in a different medium. It could be a painting, or a film or a song I guess. It’s always been the easiest way to do it, to make a drawing with text. I think there’s a particular voice that I have but I don’t think anyone else could have that voice, not that I recognise anyway. When people do things that are superficially similar to what I do, unless it’s blatant plagiarism it doesn’t bother me at all – I didn’t invent crap drawing.
What are you proudest of, out of everything you’ve produced?
I’m most proud of the fact that I don’t have to have a ‘proper’ job. And my wife doesn’t have to have a job. It might be a dumb thing to be proud of… I think the thing you’re most excited about is always the thing you’ve done right now, that you’ve just finished. Then you get sick of it pretty quick. Then maybe 6 months later you can see it for what it is. Or sometimes several years later you can see it for what it is.
Do you really do 30 drawings a day?
That seems a good number, a good day’s work. I’m into even numbers. On A3 30 is quite a lot. On A4 I might go up to 40. It does have to be an even number though. It couldn’t possibly be 31, it would have to be 32 or 34. I’m a bit mad about stuff like that.
How long do you live with them before chucking some out?
I think a year. Space becomes a problem after a certain point when you’ve been doing that much. If they still don’t look good in a year then they’re bad, so they’re torn up and put in the recycling. I don’t draw all the time though. I always have obligations to do things so I go through phases of making drawings then other times I’ll make some sculptural work then other times I’ll work on some animation… I like being at home drawing, it’s easy in a way. It’s easy but it’s hard.
It’s every child’s fantasy as well, to just sit and draw all day.
It’s a great thing. You do have to remind yourself it’s great because sometimes when you have to do it, it becomes a bit of a chore. But when you don’t have to do it it’s a great joy. So I’m always trying to pretend that I do something else.
Our designer Lewis would like to know what your favourite pen is?
Now you’re asking… Well there’s a different pen for a different task isn’t there. For making my drawings I use a Uniball Posca poster pen marker, made by the Mitsubishi pencil company. That’s my pen of choice for drawing. All different shapes and sizes and colours, but mostly black. I have several boxes of them. But I have a vast array of different pens for doing different things. Like biro for filling in FedEx forms, pencil for writing in my diary. And all sorts of other pens. Writing in my notebook, there’s a notebook pen.
Do Uniball sponsor you?
No they don’t. I should get the agent on the case.
Finally, have you been doing a phone doodle during this conversation?
No. What I’ve been doing is slightly tidying the kitchen. [Laughs] When you called I spilled stuff, and I’ve been gradually mopping it up.