A Nice Cup of Chai with David Shrigley


All artwork by David Shrigley

It’s weird owning a mug with your friend’s art on it, but I like to treat my chai latte with reverence, so that’s why I drink hot beverages from a David Shrigley cup.

He also gave me a fake passport once, which allows me to pass through international borders without hindrance. It includes artwork and tips on dealing with local authorities and strange food. It doesn’t work. I was almost arrested in Singapore. Thanks a bunch, Shrigley.

Hey David. Sorry for the late call, I’ve just watched a stressful episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

I’ve never seen it, sadly. I started watching The Looming Tower last night. It’s about the lead up to 9/11. It’s quite interesting. Although Kim [David’s wife] fell asleep so now I’ll have to watch it again tonight.

We always seem to talk about TV shows. I think the first time we chatted it was about Prison Break.

I never watched it till the end. It just got ridiculous.

It seemed like an open and shut premise.

Yes, and then the problem with these shows is they become successful and they have to extend them somehow. They go on for years and become progressively more ridiculous in their plot lines. I long for the days of Fawlty Towers, when there were only 12 episodes and that’s your lot.

You’re on the bill at the Heartland Festival (30 May-1 Jun) in Denmark, alongside Solange, Hot Chip, and Jonathan Franzen, which is the weirdest line up ever.

I’m doing an in-conversation with Swedish film director Ruben Östlund, who made The Square. It’s a black comedy about the art world in Scandinavia. And they’ve also made a version of one of my artworks, a 13-metre-high inflatable swan, which they’re putting on the lake. Me and Kim get to stay in the castle on the festival site with the member of the aristocracy who lives there. We’ve been invited.

The festival takes place inside a Danish castle?

In the grounds of a castle. There’s a moat and no one’s allowed in. But me, and Kim, and Jonathan Franzen, and Vivienne Westwood and their partners are invited in. I’ve got this idea that we might be all sitting around some grand dining table with the Duke of whoever, chitchatting and eating venison.

Haha. Some kind of Game of Thrones-style feast celebrating your achievements. You’ve defeated Hot Chip and Elbow in battle.

I feel I’ve both lost and conquered, in some ways.

I wonder if the musicians are invited too. You might be sitting with the Smashing Pumpkins.

I don’t think so.

Musicians aren’t allowed inside the portcullis.

No. We’ll see. I’ll report back with photos and maybe some audio commentary. Do you like Jonathan Franzen?

What a question. I’m going to say yes? I’ve read a couple of his books, which were alternately interesting and boring. He came to Melbourne a few years back, but his focus seemed to be getting to Werribee Sewage Plant to watch birds eat human excrement. He’s a birdwatcher.

Oh. Cool. Maybe he’s coming to Copenhagen for similar reasons.

I think he only attends festivals if there are birds involved.

That’s a bit like me with football.

Who are you going to see whilst you’re there?

In theory, I could go and see Odense Boldklub play. It might be a hard sell for Kim. Let’s leave the castle for the day and go see a second-tier Danish football match. I suspect it won’t happen.

How is your local team Whitehawk FC doing?

Badly. They got relegated again. I made some artwork as a gift for the coach which said he was a top bloke but then there was some conjecture as to whether that was actually true, given we got relegated. He’s been kept on, anyway. Bit disappointing to now be in the 8th tier of English football.

Are you a member of the Whitehawk Ultras?

I am, yeah. The only thing that dictates whether you’re a member or not is that you stand in a certain part of the ground. Everyone is welcome.

What do the Ultras do? You’re not some sort of gang that goes around with razor blades sewn into the peak of your caps, are you?

No, it’s an ironic title. Sorry, I’m just picking the dog up. Hold on a minute. She wants to sit on my lap. So, the Ultras sing and we have an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist stance and nobody’s allowed to swear. Apart from that, anything goes.

What happens if you accidentally swear?

You’re admonished by the other Ultras. No bad language, no abusive behaviour and it’s self-policing, so it’s nice. You can bring the kids, bring the dog, drink a beer while you’re watching the game. Which you can in most places, but not in England or Scotland. It’s a really nice atmosphere. You get to know everyone and become involved in the club. I’ve done a few posters and helped out with a bit of marketing.

Sounds like you’re enjoying living in Brighton.

I am. It’s handy for access to London. I’m making a sculpture at the moment that’s gold plated. I made a mirror that gives a distorted image and a frame for it that’s a bronze snake and I’m gold plating that. So, it’s an expensive mirror you can’t really see yourself in.

Is this for an exhibition?

Yes, I’m going to New York a week on Monday. The exhibition is at Art Omi, in Ghent, an hour and a half north of New York City on the Hudson. It’s a sculpture park and they own a piece of my public sculpture. Part of the deal was that I’d do a show in their gallery space at some point. It’s a lovely part of the world. I really like New York state. It’s a show curated from graphic work and sculpture. It’s all things that are useful, hence a mirror. I made some electric guitars. I made a calculator, a telephone, some extractor fans and various bits of ironmongery. So, it’s all things that have a use, in addition to being artworks. They have a purpose in the real world, albeit that purpose is slightly defeated somehow by me making them. It’s called To Be of Use, and it begins on 25th May.

Are you getting a lot of sculptural commissions?

I’ve always made sculpture, but oddly I make less of it now than I used to. I don’t really make representational sculpture anymore. I’ve started to make more installation, context-based things that are a response to a space. I used to make objects that were quite lyrical, but I got bored with that. My work’s maybe a bit more conceptual than it was before.

You did that skatepark in Malmö years ago.

Maybe ten years ago. It was quite a weird thing. It was just a friend of a friend who asked me to do it and it was kinda fun. I like Sweden, I like hanging out there. So, I painted directly onto the skate bowl with this floor paint. Unfortunately, no one could skate on it. It made reading the contours of the bowl really impossible. They had to strip it off after a month.

You basically ruined a skatepark in Sweden.

It was their idea, not mine.

You travel a lot now.

I’ve done five solo shows this year. The art world is so international it’s difficult to establish any kind of career if you’re not prepared to get on an airplane.

Your books do well everywhere.

The world of books is something I only have a taste of now and again. They’re an important part of what I do but you can’t support yourself on the revenue gained. The sale of original artwork pays my mortgage. The international art world is a small client base who are very, very rich so that’s good if you’re selling work. I’m very lucky in that regard.

I might have to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year.

I’ve never been.

I heard they have a park there where you can walk around naked.

I’d make sure it’s the right park first before stripping off.

In Berlin, you can sunbake naked as long as you don’t get up and walk around, because that’s disgusting.

You have to put your kimono on if you want to buy an ice cream. No pants, no service.

Speaking of bare skin, I see on your website that people are sending you photos of Shrigley tattoos. Arms and legs, but also some unidentifiable body parts.

Torsos, stomachs, backs. Lower torso.

Lower torso is polite.

Abdomen, shall we say. Arse. It’s been going on for quite a long time. I never really know how I feel about it. I try and ignore it. My assistant manages the correspondence and sometimes she tells me, ‘Someone wants a banana,’ so I draw a banana and that’s it. Out of sight, out of mind. I like the idea that you’re supposed to spend a long time considering what to ink on yourself and my response is the antithesis, to do something ill-considered and sometimes on the person at that time. That’s an interesting conceit but when you’ve been doing it fifteen years it starts to wear a bit thin.

There’ll be some septuagenarians with Shrigley bananas on their arms trying to explain it to their grandchildren.

It’s when it’s on their neck that it’s more of a problem. Or their face.

No one’s ever asked you to draw on their face, have they?

Back of the neck, once. People say what’s it going to look like when you’re 65, but what are you going to look like when you’re 65? Some bled-out tattoos will be the least of your problems. Unless it’s on your face. One of my friends has Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World as cats tattooed on the front of her feet.

What?

Really large, so when she wears sandals you can see them. It was really painful to have it done and took months to heal because they kept getting infected.

Wow. Wayne and Garth. Why?

As cats.

That makes zero sense.

Nothing makes sense.

Hey, I’ve been thinking about that inflatable swan thing. Can you ride it?

NO.

That was a stern No.

You can’t really ride the swan because it’s a soft inflatable. Unlike a bouncy castle, which you are invited to ride.

I fell inside a bouncy castle once. There was a hole and I slipped through.

Oh dear. Interesting premise for a short film. Inside the Bouncy Castle.

Yeah, because what’s in there?

Air, presumably. I once went to a party in Glasgow where there was a bouncy castle which took up the entire front room. People still talk about it to this day. Do you remember that party? It was really dangerous.

Was it next to the windows?

Yes. Big sash windows Glasgow tenement style and lots of really drunk people. A recipe for disaster.

I remember it being difficult to get back out of the castle. They had to switch it off and deflate the castle so I could get out. Ruined the day for all the other children.

Shit, man. That’s a story.

I better let you go. I need to go to bed. I foolishly went for a long motorbike ride today in the rain and I’m knackered.

Did you buy a motorbike? You said you were going to.

I did.

 Oh, God. Was it a Bugatti?

A Ducati.

Oh, all right. Wonderful. Long may you remain mounted.

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