The award-winning British artist is perhaps best known for his prolific print making of drawings and cartoons, which are often childish and straightforward yet critically witty. His work frequently depicts humans in an unflattering light, emphasizing the dark satirical humour of everyday life. Over the past 20 years Shrigley’s drawings, sculptures and murals have gained him worldwide acclaim.
Perhaps less known however is the diverse range of public installation works that the artist has created over the years. So here we'll be looking at his five most iconic public works and how they have helped his practice to captivate the world.
When Shrigley was commissioned in 2002 to create a project that would be 'something between a contemporary art gallery and a restaurant’, he took on the challenge wholeheartedly and came up with an installation that in many ways defined his career by bringing his humorous drawings to life in three dimensions.
Shrigley's design for the restaurant was a long way away from the formal interiors that most would expect from a high-end Mayfair restaurant, instead opting for a bold colourful design and featuring his iconic illustrations.
The installation ran through to 2022 and during this time became an iconic piece of London’s restaurant scene.
"Really Good" (the fourth plinth)
In 2009, Shrigley was given the honour of designing a monument for the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. True to form, the artist created a giant sculpture depicting a hand giving a thumbs-up. In doing so, Shrigley produced a mischievous take on the large and serious type sculptures that you would typically expect to find in similar situations. The piece fitted perfectly with Shrigley’s practice of emphasizing the dark humour of everyday life; toying with the absurdity of the traditional monument and its implicit value judgments.
Credit: The artist
Whilst the work was later described by Shrigley as simply being "mildly amusing" (again – showing Shrigley’s satirical sense of humour) it's since become an emblem of London's contemporary art scene and a thing of legend amongst Shrigley’s army of loyal collectors.
"I'm Dead” was a large-scale series of taxidermy animals created in 2010 by Shrigley that addressed the issue of mortality head-on. The work encompassed a series of dead, taxidermy animals each holding a sign saying “I’m Dead”.
Credit: The artist
Using tragi-comedy to tell us that ‘everything is going to be OK’, through the work Shrigley addressed many people's fears about death and mortality.
“I never sat down and decided to make works about life and death. It just all comes out of my head like water pouring out of a jug” – David Shrigley
Memorial was a public sculpture created by Shrigley in 2016 that was installed in New York’s Central Park. The catch here though, was that whilst Shrigley had given the work a serious title (invoking perhaps expectations of a monument to a fallen hero or war veteran) upon arriving at the work the viewer found a monument to a simple grocery list created in a large-scale granite format.
The genius of the work however is that it stands not as a monument to the extraordinary, but instead to the ordinary; this is Shrigley’s monument to the ‘everyday hero’. In creating a publicly-displayed monument to what on the face of it would be perceived as such a mundane activity, Shrigley reminds us of the crucial importance of pieces such as the grocery list to the activities of the ‘everyday hero’ in all of us. We are all heroes that need to be celebrated, Shrigley argues.
Photo credit: The artist
Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange
"I don't think that art should be part of city planning or that it should be considered when designing buildings. I think it’s better when it happens by accident” – David Shrigley
Shrigley's 2021 Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange was a conceptual art sculpture created from life-sized tennis balls. The work invited the public to walk in and to exchange the fresh new tennis balls on display for an older ball of their choosing. It really was that simple, but somehow, also magical.
By replacing the new fresh tennis balls with old ones of the public’s choosing, the work showed the decay of life, happening in real time.
Its formation was bizarre, yet its existence made the installation unique. Very Shrigley.
Credit: The Artist
The genius in Shrigley’s work lies in its apparent simplicity, where despite all its playfulness his work rigorously engages with life, death and the notion of us as the flawed human being. Shrigley’s work is a constant reminder to us that neither the world (nor the people in it) are perfect and crucially, that it is absolutely OK.
“I know a lot of people still don’t see my work as serious, because it’s funny. But then again, I’ve come to realise that the opposite of seriousness is not humour. The opposite of seriousness is incompetence. It’s somebody who isn’t really engaged with what they’re doing. And the opposite of humour is maybe sadness.” – David Shrigley.