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August 15 2012

Crazy golftime for Hitler

A model of Hitler on a crazy golf course at Grundy Art Gallery has been called 'tasteless' by a Jewish organisation. But shouldn't artists have the right to offend?

Hitler golf? Now that's what I call crazy. An exhibition called Adventureland Golf that has just opened at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool (where else?) features crazy golf course obstacles created by artists who include David Shrigley, Gary Webb, and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Can you guess which of them is responsible for a lifelike statue of Hitler's head and torso, its arm poised to rise in a Nazi salute every time the ball goes through a hole between its legs?

Take a bow, Chapmans. Or give a salute, whatever.

In a bit of national publicity that must be welcome to any exhibition opening in the middle of August, Michael Samuels of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has condemned the Chapman brothers' piece, calling it "tasteless" and declaring that it has "absolutely no artistic value whatsoever".

Is it worth him making those comments? What has been gained by them? The exhibition is in the news as a result. The Hitler artwork will be seen by many more people than would otherwise have attended the Grundy. Surely this is an object lesson in how not to criticise art you find offensive.

Artists have the right to offend. We do not have the right, as citizens, to be free from every image that upsets, shocks, or even disgusts us. To call this crazy golf representation of Adolf Hitler "tasteless" is a bit like calling the Colossus of Rhodes "colossal". Does anyone think the artists were trying to be anything other than tasteless?

I only hope Mr Samuels is never exposed to the Chapmans' much more ambitious (and famous) work Hell, which features thousands of melted, melded and otherwise abused toy Nazis enacting an apocalyptic vision of torture and death.

But when does an image of Hitler become offensive? Hitler as a crazy golf statue apparently offends. But what about Basil Fawlty doing his funny walk, Mel Brooks's Hitler musical in The Producers, or the bizarrely characterful portrayal of Hitler in the film Downfall?

Why should the Blackpool Hitler be seen as an outrage too far, when this vicious mass murderer is such a familiar, even comic image in our culture?

The trouble seems to lie in our belief that statues are honorific. To make a statue of someone, even as a proposal for an imaginary crazy golf course, is – we assume – to praise and ennoble them. That's why statues get toppled in revolutions and wars. The exhibition in Blackpool also includes an image of dictator Saddam Hussein. Is that praising him?

Does the crazy-golf Hitler have artistic value? As an exercise in causing offence, it is apparently quite effective. That may not be the highest artistic achievement, but it's not bad for mid-August. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 04 2012

Edinburgh festival diary: news and gossip

Valentina makes tea, comics pose with pets and a man plays dead for a month

T stands for tedium

Bravest performer at this year's fringe? Early shout for Valentina Ceschi, one half of the duo who perform the offbeat play Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice (Underbelly). For at least 10 minutes Ceschi mimes the role of an absent-minded, tea-making elderly lady. She slowly turns on a kettle, opens cupboard doors, closes them, turns on the kettle again… It goes on and on. In opening week it's fair to say the audience were restless. Some fell to giggles and a few, inevitably, walked out. Ceschi never once flinched. Bravo!

Live on stage? Well, dead actually

A different type of commitment is being shown this month by a supporting player in Matthew Osborn's Shopping Centre at the Gilded Balloon. A man plays dead on stage for the show's entire 55-minute running time. That'll require roughly 1,500 minutes of deadness over the course of the festival. Double bravo!

Pets win prizes

It isn't looking like a vintage year for comedians' promo posters in Edinburgh (and not just because Richard Herring, in a recent broadside against the commercialisation of the fringe, likened festival poster campaigns to "atomic warfare"). There seems to be an unexpected minor vogue for portraits of standups clutching pets: Tania Edwards holds a restless cat, Jim Jeffries a sleepy-eyed dog. Pete Johansson goes for shock, smoking a crack pipe. Loretta Maine, meanwhile, illustrates her show Bipolar with a picture of two polar bears. Mm.

Does that ring a bell?

Verbatim sporting play The Prize (Underbelly) bravely teases the Olympic bother-police by putting circular award crests on its posters. This seems to suggest, from a distance, the famous rings. If we see any stage invasions of The Prize by uniformed IOC strong-arms, you'll know why.

Hooray for Harry's hobby

As well as trialling material for his forthcoming UK tour over the first few days of the fringe, Harry Hill is also showcasing his artistic talents in his first public exhibition of paintings and sculptures, My Hobby, which opened on Friday at White Stuff and runs until 2 September. Characteristically surreal, it features celebrities depicted as you've never seen them – including Philip Schofield as Munch's The Scream (it really suits him), and Britpop stars painted on coconuts. There's also a specially commissioned interview between Hill and cult artist David Shrigley. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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March 07 2012

Peter Duggan's Artoons – David Shrigley

Cartoonist Peter Duggan redraws history to discover how UK's most deadpan and death-obsessed artist might have fared in the art world of medieval Europe

March 06 2012

David Shrigley: art's White Rabbit

Is David Shrigley's show a modern Wonderland? Freddie Holker, winner of the Guardian's 2011 young arts critics competition, gives his verdict

I'm standing in a lift. It all seems normal enough. I lean against the brushed steel of the elevator as it purrs along to a monotonous voice declaring, "Lift going up." Somewhere on my journey between the ground floor and second floor of London's Hayward gallery, something surreal takes over. The harmless voice of the lift is hijacked by the resonant tones of a monkey describing its intimate personal life to me. Welcome to the demented cosmos of artist David Shrigley.

My first glimpse of the peculiar is his work Ostrich. A stuffed bird, mounted on a podium and neatly decapitated, provides an insight into the brilliant, comic and raw absurdity of this exhibition. If Michael Jackson and Bubbles were to open a department store, this is probably what it would look like: a headless squirrel, a stuffed terrier holding an "I'm Dead" sign, a slice of Black Forest gateau and a vase of toenail clippings. Modern art is always the subject of debate. Is it really art? Or can anyone just casually nail a Rich Tea biscuit to a wall, charge people to view it and declare it a satirical take on the ways of the world?

There's the absurd: a giant teacup the diameter of a rose bush, brimming with what looks like Earl Grey. Then there's the visual pun: a stepladder that has been stepped on and destroyed. And there are insider jokes for artists – a two-minute animation of a finger flicking a light switch, a mocking tribute to Martin Creed's The Lights Going On and Off.

But every now and again there is a connection between art and reality that is more than just a joke. I see a selection of miniature framed photographs on a wall. To look at them, I'm forced to crouch down and lie on the floor, earning disapproving glances from gallery visitors. They all symbolise smallness. Images of thumbs, pinkies and other tiny implements are displayed. Then, moving into obscurity, Shrigley adds a picture of Evo Stik adhesive. He's got me looking, and that's what it's all about. There are keys on hooks, signs saying "Look at me", a metal gate telling me not to linger. I crawl through a tiny gateway and peer through a hole in the wall to spy on inflatable worms. It's like being Alice in Wonderland. Drink me, eat me! And Shrigley is the White Rabbit.

I am drawn in by a work called Dead and Dying. This is a mass of little bodies made of clay. You could find it comic or tragic. They are deformed, each one only three inches long, each moribund figure a sombre grey. Some are praying, kneeling on their scrawny and feeble knees. Their distorted hands clutch their damaged heads, their melancholic faces gouged out by Shrigley's hand. It offers an angle on the world – that pain and anguish occur too regularly, that death is omnipresent. It's reminiscent of Pompeian plaster casts, the final positions of the poor souls who perished there. His clay victims seem just as powerful.

Shrigley is best known for his cartoons, and one wall displays more than 50 of them. The sketches are naively drawn, but the meaning and the punchlines are adult. One bears the title, "The lecture you gave was not well received", over a crowd of stickmen shouting "Boring", "Rubbish" and, "I want to kill you." This mirrors the way Shrigley presents his art, and the way he expects us to react as an audience. Boring it is not. Rubbish? Well, you decide. And don't worry David, I don't want to kill you.

Read all the young critics competition-winning entries here

• Freddie Holker runs a blog for teenagers who write about the arts at © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 30 2012

Cartoon capers

David Shrigley's new show is appalling, abysmal and painfully dire. But Adrian Searle likes his work so much he got it tattooed on his belly

A man is asleep. His little hands grasp at the blanket as he utters all those little noises and mumblings that make the human animal so endearing, so deeply annoying. Dreams and emotions cross his face, drawn there, then erased. This is not Warhol's famous movie Sleep, but a looped animation by David Shrigley with the same title. The drawing has great economy, a cack-handed eloquence. I wait for the man to wake or die or scream, or for the blanket to betray some involuntary erotic protrusion. It doesn't.

Shrigley's art now fills the top floor of the Hayward Gallery in London for his new show, Brain Activity, which opens tomorrow. Drawings, sculptures, animations and photographs – I go from room to room constantly seeking out the next excruciating gag. But does his art last? Is it funny the second time round, beyond the spark and the laugh?

I own a Shrigley and I look at it several times a day. I keep it with me always – and often flash it at people. It's a tattoo. The artist drew it on my body at the Frieze Art Fair a couple of years ago, and I had it made permanent. "Writing," it says, in Shrigley's wonky script. It's written on the body, on the stomach, to be precise. If ever I'm lost in a daydream, I give it a glance to remind myself what I am supposed to be doing at my desk. Writing.

There's more to Shrigley than his knowing nods to high art, although his 194cm-tall bronze finger looks a bit like a late Giacometti or Brancusi's Bird in Space (well, it's tall, thin and made of bronze, at any rate). And there's a drawn outline of a curly stemmed pipe with the inscription This Is Nothing; Magritte's famous pipe, on the other hand, was annotated with the words This Is Not a Pipe. A song on the 7in vinyl disc that comes with Shrigley's excellent exhibition catalogue has a man yelling: "Get out of my house." It bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Nauman's sound piece Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room. The Nauman, you might argue, isn't as danceable. One can go on and on with the art references, from Munch to Martin Creed.

Shrigley's bleak, black humour and sophisticated grimness make you wonder about the mind that made this work – crazy guy, crazy art, you think. But Shrigley in person is mild, polite, ostensibly English, though he has worked in Glasgow since studying there two decades ago. Yet much of what he does gives the impression of having been produced by a madman sequestered away in a locked ward, sending out messages under the door.

What this exhibition misses out on – unlike Shrigley's books of drawings and photographs – is the relentlessness of his art. He produces thousands and thousands of drawings, most of which fail his scrupulous quality checks. What counts for quality in his work is actually the appalling, the abysmal, the painfully dire. When he starts making highly crafted objects, I like his work somewhat less. The giant ceramic cup and saucer, filled with gallons of fresh tea each day, feels laboured to me. The stuffed ostrich with no head? No. The fishing waders filled with expanded polyurethane foam – standing up on their own, drooling solidified goo, and called (inexplicably) Cheers – work rather better, but don't ask me how.

Little stick people screwing on a real car bonnet? No. And rearing up behind this is a giant and very characterful wall drawing of a man, the body parts all inappropriately labelled; meanwhile, the pink thing I spy through a small hole drilled in the gallery wall is fun, whatever it is. I shan't spoil it for you.

Shrigley's work is very wrong and very bad in all sorts of ways. It is also ubiquitous and compelling. There are lots of artists who, furrowing their brows and trying to convince us of their seriousness, aren't half as profound or compelling (I can provide a list, on receipt of a postal order). His work is a kind of corrective, a dissection of the human condition. He would have had Beckett in tears; and that Austrian master of miserabilism, the writer Thomas Bernhard, might even have cracked a smile.

It doesn't much matter if Shrigley is or isn't a Big Heavyweight Artist. He's brilliant anyway. I keep thinking he could have made a less polite exhibition. I wanted more stuff and less art, something that would delay me longer. But his work isn't really lip-pursing or ruminative. We look, we wince or laugh, and we move on – in life as well as in art. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Die laughing: David Shrigley – in pictures

The master of death-preoccupied drollery has a new show opening at the Hayward Gallery on 1 February. Here's a selection of eye-catching shots from the exhibition

January 28 2012

Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety

British artists used to delight in shocking audiences, but now many are involved in projects intended to cheer people up

Young British artists once rocked the world with a volley of pickled animal cadavers, unmade beds and flicking light switches. But now, against the backdrop of a grim economic climate, some of the movement's biggest stars appear to be concentrating on cheering us all up.

Feelgood artwork is everywhere, from the life-affirming London Underground project of Michael Landy, who has invited commuters to log incidents of kindness, to the uplifting public art commissioned for the top of bus shelters to herald the Olympics.

"There is a second world war kind of thing going on about 'keeping the home fires burning' at the moment; a bit of 'keep calm and carry on' art, if you like," said the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller this weekend as he prepared for the opening of his retrospective show, Joy in People, on London's South Bank next month. However, his own work, as he explains, is not intended as a simple pick-me-up.

"The title of my show is apparently positive, but the show itself isn't all positive. There is anger and there is frustration too," he said.

Other leading artists, such as Martin Creed and Tracey Emin, who established their careers with work on challenging themes, are now producing art that urges their public to think positive thoughts. "Don't Worry", reads Creed's neon work, while several of Emin's recent neon signs are equally direct, reading "Trust Me" and "I Keep Believing in You". The Turner prize-nominated artist Mark Titchner is one of those to contribute to Bus Tops, a Cultural Olympiad project which has seen inspirational digital commands such as "Act or be Acted Upon" and "If you don't like your life, you can change it" adorning London bus shelters.

Much of this work is tongue-in-cheek, or at least invites a few questions, but the overall effect is to emphasise the better things about human existence.

"When times are difficult, values are going to be questioned," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery. "You look again at what's important and at what's less important in life. It is usually a time when culture and art can play an important part, whereas in a boom period there is too much focus on the hype around the boom and on all the alluring baubles it holds out before us."

Rugoff, who is staging the Deller show and an exhibition of the wry sketches of David Shrigley, is clear that art should not be regarded as "a nice sedative we can take together … What it can do, though, is function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways."

On Tuesday, a group of artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo are to launch a more practical response to the financial slump. The group are staging a major exhibition in London this spring that will raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. "Art reflects on situations in ways that cold hard facts can't," said Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997. "It tries to make sense of the world subjectively, whereas facts tend to ignore our subjectivity."

Her partner is Landy, and she explains that the idea behind his Acts of Kindness on the London Underground came to him before the financial crisis took hold. "For me it was powerful that an artist was working with kindness, something that we easily overlook," she said this weekend. "It actually inspired some works of mine, including the one for the Crisis Commission, where I wanted to look at people who have overcome difficulties in life and have become heroes."

But on the weekend when film-maker Danny Boyle, director of the Olympics opening ceremony, announced his Isle of Wonders theme, Deller for one is decidedly grumpy about the pressure to be jolly in preparation for the summer. "The Olympics, of course, is something that will attempt to brainwash artists into expressing positive things," he said. "Some will. But I am the kind of person who will try and do the opposite. I find these big cultural and sporting events unbearable."

In 2009 Deller invited London Underground staff on the Piccadilly Line to help him produce a booklet of quotes called What is the City But People. The booklet aimed "to generate a more positive atmosphere during peak times", but his best known work also tackles the violent 1984 confrontations between striking miners and police and the Iraq war. His recent work What It Is, the remains of a car destroyed at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad, will be in the new exhibition.

"Historically, art began by giving people what they needed, as it was tied up with religion. Now it is much more fragmented and it can be about how miserable and rotten things are," he said. His own collaborative work with the public is born of the fact that he is not traditionally trained, Deller suggests, as much as it is due to his belief and interest in people.

"At its simplest, I would say art is another way of looking at life, or perhaps another way of dealing with it."

Deller points out that BritArt started under a Conservative government "in difficult times" and was later "appropriated by the Blair regime".

"At that point it did all become a bit celebratory," he said.

For several young artists the benevolent act of making communal art has become part of the reason for doing it. Max Dovey, 23, is one of the artists featured in the 2012 Catlin guide to the 40 most promising art school graduates. "Apart from one or two notable exceptions, the response by new artists to the recession hasn't been as political or aggressive as one might have expected," said Justin Hammond, who wrote the guide. "Looking at the selected artists, there's a lot of humour running through the work though, and Max Dovey's work is very much about encouraging communication and embracing the idea of community."

"The Emotional Stock Market, which was the piece I did last year, was about trading well-being as a commodity like shares," said Dovey, who is from Bristol and lives and works in south London. "There was a lot of political talk about moving away from gross domestic product to valuing how people were feeling, and my piece was a satire or a comment on that. We tracked the levels of well-being by looking at status updates on Facebook and at Twitter to see how many were happy or sad, and then we traded them in live performance."

Dovey argues that there is a new growth of "careful art" among contemporaries who are making community projects. "Artists don't want to shock or upset. There is more interest in how art makes people feel and the experience of art has become at least as important as the practice of it." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

This week's new exhibitions

Santiago Sierra, London

It's often said that Santiago Sierra's art is shocking, not because he's had junkies tattooed in exchange for a hit, or paid people living on the breadline to hide inside sculptures around which his collectors sip drinks. Rather, what makes this Spanish artist's stuff provocative is that his audience, instead of being scandalised, digest it all so easily. Fact is, we're all so numbed to human rights horrors that Sierra's "real" metaphors seem like small change. Now he's exploring what happens when you say no, or at least what happened when he took a giant sculpture of the word on a global tour. The monumental NO and a video about its adventures is accompanied by a counter, recording human deaths since the beginning of the year.

Lisson Gallery, NW1, Wed to 3 Mar

Skye Sherwin

Thomas Demand; Daar, Nottingham

Fine art seems to have a thing about architecture just now, but few will have applied themselves like Thomas Demand. While his usual creative tactic means presenting mystifying photographs taken from architectural models, here he chooses a set of maquettes by architect John Lautner, whose sexy, modernist Elrod House featured in the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. Demand focuses in close, revealing subtle abstract details. An accompanying show by the Bethlehem-based group Daar (Decolonising Architecture/Art Residency) tells a more disturbing architectural tale, recreating for its centrepiece a section of the Palestinian parliament, abandoned in 2003.

Nottingham Contemporary, to 11 Mar

Robert Clark

David Shrigley, London

David Shrigley has achieved world fame thanks to his blackly funny greetings cards, skewering mankind's follies with scrappy felt-tipped cartoons. Yet his deadpan gags also extend to animation, installation and photography. This survey shows that there's more to Shrigley than caustic doodles. His sculptures include stuffed puppies and kittens with signs saying "I'm Dead". There are also larger works such as his plague of steel insects, plus – of course – his drawings and animations; lots of them.

Hayward Gallery, SE1, Wed to 13 May


Will Alsop; John Wood & Paul Harrison, West Bromwich

Will Alsop has always distinguished himself as an architect very much on the move. His box of delights design for West Bromwich's eye-catching The Public was highly influenced by public discussions and creative workshops; an Alsop building is intended to be engaged with rather than admired. So here, for his first exhibition return to the gallery, Alsop collaborates with architecture students to present a large-scale 3D painting. The artistic duo John Wood & Paul Harrison, stage a more slapstick take on our experience of interior design in their show Twenty Six (Drawing And Falling Things), in which they bring Buster Keaton's endearing pathos up to date in video shorts that illustrate the man-made world's determination to trip up all human desire.

The Public, to 20 May


Lydia Gifford, London

Painter Lydia Gifford's creations channel everyday mark-making. Strokes of house paint – scuffed up or spread across canvases and boards – might have been left by an errant decorator. To these she sometimes adds daubs of beeswax and glue, cotton dressings or even dust and clay. Some are propped against the wall, others left on the floor, like an afterthought. It might all seem random, were it not for the way Gifford orchestrates her works with chiming marks and forms, quietly transforming the spaces they inhabit. These scant offerings are beautifully conceived.

David Roberts Art Foundation, W1, to 24 Mar


Matthew Darbyshire, Glasgow

We can only wonder how Matthew Darbyshire decks out his own living room; one can never be sure what his angle is. His meticulously placed, retro-minimalist interior decor could be taken as a satirical perspective on yuppie aspirations. Or his work could be interpreted as a nostalgic homage to popularly maligned modernist design. With typical sensitivity, his installation is here composed according to its site; sculpture, film and printmaking refer to Glasgow's architectural and cultural history. Yet his slick portrait of habitats might well strike a discomfiting note far further afield for us all.

Tramway, to 11 Mar


Simon Martin, Bath

Simon Martin's latest film essay, Louis Ghost Chair, should make you think twice about the objects around you. At its core are a classic 18th-century Louis XV armchair, its carvings now battered and paint-chipped; and its distant relative, Philippe Starck's Louis Ghost Chair, a mass-produced piece of moulded polycarbonate. Yet Martin's film is far more than a portrait of furniture. In the style of museum audio guides, a woman's voice meditates on the memories objects carry, the psychic shift from craftsmanship to serial mass production. As the physical world collides with the mind's shifting terrain, design becomes a window on evolution and time, and chairs turn out to be surprisingly thrilling.

Holburne Museum Of Art, to 15 Apr


Samantha Donnelly, Manchester

The list of source materials here sounds traditionally reassuring and conventionally attractive, verging on the seductive: mannequins, pin-ups, mirrors, lipstick, ribbons, buttons, false eyelashes, spray tan and lace. Yet once assembled by Samantha Donnelly the outcome is unnerving. Donnelly is far from rare in her professed concern with the objectification of the female image in the mass media, yet her nightmare hybrids go beyond that. She serves up a freakish world of fragmented intimacies. If the surrealist Hans Bellmer had been let loose in Poundland he might have created something similar. Broken armatures are decked out with amoebic limbs; organic substances abutted against geometric plastic. Bits dangle, squirm and writhe about; it's guttural kitsch, erotic farce. As playful as it is perverse, Donnelly's art is daft yet deeply serious.

Cornerhouse, to 25 Mar

RC © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From Matthew Darbyshire in Glasgow to David Shrigley in London, here's what's happening in art around the country

January 27 2012

David Shrigley: one of the cleverest, funniest conceptual artists

Cartoon or work of art? From his stuffed animals to slogan teatowels, Shrigley's work is simple but profound

It's the image everyone knows best – so well known that we're not even going to use it as an illustration here: a Jack Russell, stuffed, standing up, holding in its paws a sign saying "I'm dead". There is also a version in which the stuffed animal is a cat.

Several things strike one when looking at this. The first reaction – I've tried this out on a few people who have somehow managed not to see the image yet – is laughter: a short, shocked laugh that suddenly evaporates, like a drop of water on a hot shovel, as the work's various contradictions and ambiguities align and realign themselves within your consciousness.

First, you notice the audacity. It's a work of what seems like blinding obviousness. But in attributing the ability to express a condition to something that is manifestly unable to do so, Shrigley is having a go at the infantilising anthropomorphism currently sloshing around daily culture: the coffee cup which has "Careful – I'm hot!" printed on it; or, as I saw recently on a tourist double-decker the other day, "Sorry – I'm not in service". But there's more.

What the work is inviting us to do is, literally, to laugh at death – for that is what you are seeing: almost all you are seeing. But not all, for a living hand arranged the body, wrote on the sign, and stuck the sign in the paws. There is life there, but a cruel kind of life, the kind that is rumoured to make sport of the corpses in the back rooms of undertakers, that (at its most innocent) makes the bodies of the dead assume unnatural positions, or look as though they're doing silly things. But there's still more, yet another flip side: he may be making the animals do things they were incapable of when alive, but they're doing things that cartoon animals have no problem doing and, moreover, the truth they are proclaiming can't be gainsaid. That animal is dead, after all, just as its placard proclaims.

The more one thinks about it the more eloquent a statement about death it seems. For all its ambiguities, sparked off from the simplest of elements and generating a surprisingly rich and accessible range of interpretations, there is, just as one may say about death, no let-out, in the end. It makes Damien Hirst's works of taxidermy, with their endless titles, almost look as though, in comparison, they are evading the issue. (There's a Shrigley cartoon in which a father and son are looking at one of Hirst's flyblown heads in a perspex box. "It's bloody brilliant, son, that's what it is," says a speech balloon, and – as Shrigley has used the same joke in a short film urging us, and governments, to support the arts – you suspect that he really does think it's brilliant.)

Yet one of the most curious things about Shrigley's works of taxidermy is that somehow – and I have not got close up enough to one to see if any trickery has been used, but I would guess not – these animals' faces look, uncannily, as though they have been drawn by David Shrigley. The expression, the unsettlingly expressive blankness characteristic of his cartoon figures' pupil-less eyes, is Shrigleyan. They have become subsumed into his world. Now, that really is clever.

In one of his introductions to Shrigley's collections, Will Self wrote that, once you've looked at enough of his drawings – he gives a figure of a hundred – "there is no plane of reality other than that described by Shrigley." It's a good point, and a testament to Shrigley's genius, which is not a word I use lightly.

On first encountering a Shrigley drawing, one is of course immediately aware that we are in a realm of artistic fluidity. You might even experience, before it's sunk in, a spurt of outrage that anything like this can earn any claim to our attention. And then you might ask: are we looking at a cartoon, or a work of art? Surely something so rudimentary cannot be art? But then you can't really say they're cartoons either, or not with complete confidence. A cartoon that does not make us laugh can be said to have failed; a Shrigley drawing that does not make us laugh makes us do something else – think, probably. This already puts it in the premier league of conceptual art, which, too much of the time, makes us only think darkly about Arts Council funding, or the limits of human gullibility.

And yet by adopting the aesthetic of the disturbed adolescent who can't draw particularly well, or the disturbed man in a pub toilet with a pen, a blank surface to draw on and a bit of time on his hands, Shrigley sneaks profundity in under the radar. He is adept at blurring boundaries, as everyone who thinks about him notices: "naive/sophisticated; whole/part; framed/unconstrained; to scale/in perspective; naturalism/fantasy" (Self again). To which one can add, among other things: funny/not funny.

He also, in his sculpture, make us wonder whether we are in fact seeing a sculpture or a three-dimensional cartoon. One of my favourites is a cardboard box, placed on some cleared and derelict urban space, perhaps an old bombsite, in what looks like Glasgow. There is a rectangular door-shaped hole cut in the box – which itself looks as though it is roughly four feet across and two feet high, maybe less. Above it are written the words "LEISURE CENTRE". Now, everyone who sees this laughs; and the more you think about it, the richer that laughter is. For something that looks as though it took half a second to dream up, and maybe 60 seconds to execute, this is quite an achievement.

But the slapdash nature of Shrigley's work is deceptive. Winningly happy to talk about his work and his creative methods, he is emphatic about not making too many bold claims. About his libretto for an opera, staged last year, Pass the Spoon, a bizarre story involving a spoon, a fork, a banana, a manic-depressive egg and the sinister Mr Granules (why, incidentally, is that such a great name?), he said: "I suppose that these characters and these events that I've imagined will come from the same place as all the other crap I've produced ... To be honest with you, the only thing I'm really qualified to do is to make the poster." And yet he puts the work in – he spends eight hours a day drawing.

Here are the words I removed to create the ellipsis in the quote above: "they will be recognisable, and I think you will see my hand in it". Sandwiched between two very self-deprecating statements – can you imagine any other artist saying anything like that? – is the acknowledgement of an artist who knows what he's doing, and what he's about. Even when he's not producing art/cartoons, or cartoon/sculptures, he can do something Shrigleyesque. Looking at his work makes us wonder about style, or what it is about an artist's vision that makes it recognisable; how you can see the artist's hand in it.

For an entertaining half-hour, you could do worse than type the words "David Shrigley" into Google and then click on "images". You will get – for Shrigley would appear to be generous with his talent, and would probably knock something out for you if you asked nicely enough – at least 11 pages of cartoons (or whatever they are). "SORRY I PAINTED THE WORD TWAT ON YOUR GARAGE DOOR" is the entire text of one of his image-less drawings (or whatever you want to call them); "PLEASE EXCUSE THE TERRIBLE INJUSTICE" (and in much smaller capitals, below: "THANK-YOU") is that of another. What is it that makes us accept that one sensibility alone produced both of these? What is the place in Shrigley's head to which he alludes that produces this "crap"?

"Our favourite exponent of contemporary outsider art", was how Esquire magazine described him last year, but it is not exactly outsider art (which tends to involve some kind of pity, or condescension, on the part of the viewer). This is, in fact, almost completely wrong: the thing about Shrigley is that he produces insider art: manifestations and expressions of an interior weirdness to which he grants us access, and which we can, at some inarticulate but immediate level, identify with and understand. In the vile and unending struggle against futility, shame and violence, you gather pretty quickly that Shrigley is on your side. It is not an idle exercise. One of the images that will come up in your Google search is what I gather is a tea-towel with these words on it: "TELL ME WHEN I AM NO LONGER NEEDED AND I SHALL GO". To which one can only reply: you're still needed. Do please stick around. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

David Shrigley opens his brain

The most deadpan man in art was nearly not an artist at all. On the eve of his Hayward Gallery show, Brain Activity, here's the man himself talking about art, 'one of the most fun things that one can do that's fun'

David Shrigley: your questions answered

The ribald artist will be at the Guardian office between 1pm and 2pm GMT on Monday 30 January answering your questions. What would you like to ask him? Post your questions now

From 1-2pm on Monday, one of the art world's arch satirists, David Shrigley, will be in the hotseat to answer your questions. He started out as a cartoon-artist known for silly, audacious slogans in his signature capital-letter type. But for his upcoming retrospective at London's Hayward gallery, he has increased his output of surrealist sculpture (which until now has most notably consisted of stuffed animals holding up signs regarding their mortality, and leisure centres in miniature). Expect wildly oversized eggs and huge keyrings that should dangle from the waistband of a security guard giant.

What would you like to know about his life or work? Where does the funny man look for inspiration? Where do his witty meditations on death really come from? Why has he decided to become a tattoo artist? Why did he write a libretto about a depressed egg and a spoon? Is he trying to perk up the po-faced art scene? Ask away ...

• David Shrigley will be here to answer your questions between 1pm and 2pm (GMT) on Monday. Post your questions below, then come here to join him in conversation on Monday

We have posted the conversation here to make it easier to follow.

Ludovico asks:

Do you ever find it surreal living in a world where people believe in an invisible sky daddy?
Why are the holes in cats fur always in the right places for their eyes?

David Shrigley replies:

I think it's perfectly reasonable to believe in an 'invisible sky daddy'.
People believe in lots of things that don't actually exist. Like democracy, for example.
RE: Cats: The eyes are there first; the hair grows around them.

lostindenmark asks:

could you, or would you continue being an artist if you were on the dole?

David replies:

I was on the dole for a year after art school, so yes, I guess I would. I'd have to moderate my materials budget though.

quickspace asks:

How did the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy video come about? What's your favourite song of his? (mine's Always Bathing in the Evening). Who else would you love to work with?

David replies:

I got asked to do Bonnie Prince Billy video because I met Laurence from Domino records once and I told him I was a big BPB fan. I guess they figured I'd do the job for very modest reward (they were right). In retrospect I don't think it's a great video, but I'm proud of the association. My fav track is perhaps the original 'I am a cinematographer' though there are lots of others.

Blazeldude asks:

Do you agree with the way that art is taught? Is it even possible to teach it?

David replies:

I think it's possible to help a person become an artist, but teaching art is more like Freudian psychotherapy than teaching a 'proper' subject. As an art teacher your job is perhaps to facilitate learning rather than impart knowledge.
I think Fine Art should not be an honours degree subject though. It should just be pass or fail.

mescaliniumunited asks:

Do you consider drawing to be of primary importance in making art?

David replies:

I like drawing. It's important to me. Is it essential? Probably not. That's really all I can tell you.

Tehillim asks:

The dog's cute, but isn't it just a cuter rip-off of Damien Hirst's"The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"?

David replies:

It's not something I thought about before, but maybe.

rufusgizmo asks:

As a Forest fan, how long do you reckon Steve Cotterill's got left?

David replies:

Hopefully we will stay up and he will be a hero. Otherwise we'll go down and he'll get the boot at the end of the season.

Doomtrain asks:

How would you,in every day conversation, pronounce the word ribald?

David replies:

I'd go for: RYE-BALD. BUt I'm guessing.

Masistios asks:

Judging by this extract from your wikipedia page you like to consider yourself an "outsider artist". How do you square that with the fact that, not only are you establishment trained but you have also, throughout your entire career, been represented by galleries and at exhibitions and events which are very firmly nestled within the contemporary modern establishment?

With your feet so apparently firmly under the establishment table, what do you think qualifies you as a (mock) 'outsider'? What do you think qualifies you as an artist?

David replies:

I'm not an outsider artist. I'm an insider. I have a degree in Fine Art.
I might be an outsider illustrator though. I know almost nothing about illustration (per se) and can't draw very well, but I still do some illustration work.

Glasstreacle asks:

Has the magic pen ever again been given to a mortal?

David replies:

It has. But now it's run out. I went to the London Graphic Centre and asked if they had any more. They said they'll have some in at the end of the week (but only the fat ones).

pineapplegirl asks:

You really make me laugh a lot, out loud. Who makes you laugh?

Daivd replies:

Andy Knowles. Harry Hill.

AttendantsView asks:

Having worked in an exhibition where people were horrified that their kids had seen "a DISGUSTING cartoon!" by yourself (utterly ignoring the sign about the display needing parental guidance, and ignoring the fact that their kids were interested in art for a change) I was interested that once the children saw that piece, they started looking more closely at the other exhibits.

Do you think that your work has the ability to reach those usually uninterested or unmoved by "contemporary art", and if so, why? If not, why not?

David replies:

I don't really know to be honest. I think that making humorous work makes it more accessible, but it doesn't necessarily make it good art. I'm aware that a lot of kids seem to like my work and that makes me happy somehow. I hope it still appeals to adults too though.

cnm502 asks:

Your work truly makes me laugh, with its direct and absurd wit and minimal style. Would you like to see more artists who have a more 'light-hearted' and comedic angle to their art taken more seriously in the Contemporary art world? And do you even like thinking of your own work as 'Contemporary Art'?

David replies:

I would define myself as a contemporary artist. I don't think you can really argue with that definition. I think there is a place for more humour in the art world, just as there is a place for more of it in the real world. But I also think that if all art were funny then it would get pretty tiresome. You also need some seriousness.

NicoleNeolithic asks:

You live in Glasgow, is there anything about the city that particularly influences or inspires your work?

David replies:

It's hard to say. It rains a lot, so I spend a lot of time indoors drawing pictures.

LindesayI asks:

Has Philip Guston been an influence on your work? Your stuff seems to share a similar interest in the expressive potential of apparently 'crude' drawing ...

David replies:

I'm a big Guston fan that's for sure. I think he probably has influenced me, but it's difficult to say how much. I'd say you could see his influence more in artists like Tal R. (who I am also a fan of) because he is a proper painter and I'm not, really.

MissUnwin asks:

I imagine that you have an advice for art students stock answer (you must get asked allot) although I don't think I have ever read it, care to reiterate?

David replies:

My advice is:
Your degree mark is unimportant.
Try not to spend too much money on your art (unless you're rich)
Put the hours in and the art will get made.
Enjoy yourself.
You don't have to be an artist when you leave art school if you don't want to, but if you do want to then it is entirely possible: All you have to do is keep making art.

nabisco asks:

Hi David,
have you ever dragged a stranger into a taxi?

David replies:

I've dragged one particular person out of a taxi on more than one occasion.
But she is not a stranger.

monolithblack asks:

how has the popularity of your work affected you and your work?
what is your favourite album?
will the brown egg i layed ever hatch?

David replies:

how has the popularity of your work affected you and your work?
I guess. It means I don't have to have a job. So it must be a good thing.
what is your favourite album?
Velvet Underground- Any Warhol (if I really have to make one choice)
will the brown egg i layed ever hatch?
Only if you keep sitting on it and make clucking sounds.

EvilDave asks:

Do you think ignoring all of Masistios' questions would be funny?

David replies:

I was thinking I should have done that. But I answered one just to be polite.

eCarl asks:

Does payment for a piece of your art ever make you feel like a banker getting a bonus?

David replies:

I do feel a bit embarrassed that I get paid quite a lot for doing something that I really enjoy. But my wife discourages me from thinking about it.

rougetomtom asks:

My perspective as an aspiring artist is that the art world seems ever more elitist. Art is just a fiscal commodity to art dealers and it's impossible to see a way in. How much do you think 'playing the part' matters in becoming successful ?

Also the need to make money and survive take over most of my energy and time... What are some practical steps you would advise someone to take who wants to make art their life and living ?

David replies:

I'm incredibly lucky in that respect, obviously. I think it's really important to keep making art if that's what you want to do. You should just make a form of art that's still do-able alongside whatever you haver to do to make money. I spent 5 years as a gallery guide (amongst other things) and I think that's part of the reason came to make drawing the centre of my art practice; because it was possible to do it at the same time as having a job and having little time or money and no studio.
Scmoozing can get you a long way in the art world if you're really good at it. But making good artwork will get you a lot further and is a lot more satisfying.

RobertSnozers asks:

Dear Mister Shrigley,

I sent some former colleagues a card bearing one of your designs - it was the one that goes something like: 'Fuck off! 25 sugars in a cup of tea. Ten cups like this a day. Don't tell me I can't'. They were offended. Who's better - me or them?

David replies:

You of course, you idiot!

harteorg asks:

Hirst or Hockney?

David replies:

Both. But I'd rather own a Hockney.

jonnyboynotts asks:

Hi Dave

Have you heard that Wes Morgan has been sold to Leicester City for £1m... any thoughts on what we should do with the money?

David replies:

I'm very disappointed. But I guess it could have ended up like Kelvin Wilson last season. Centre backs are easier to find that strikers I guess :-(

AdamBoult asks:

Hi David,

Do you notice other artists and illustrators copying your style? And if so, does it bother you?

David replies:

It's not something I notice. I think it's impossible to copy my style because I don't really have one. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 29 2011

The arts in 2012: visual arts

Adrian Searle picks his highlights of the year ahead

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011; Tate Modern retrospective

Fancy a world trip? All Gagosian's 11 galleries, from London to Hong Kong, will be filled with Hirst Spot paintings in January. This dotty explosion is a mere aperitif to Tate Modern's retrospective in April. How much of what he's done over the last quarter decade really makes the grade – and how much is hype? The Complete Spot Paintings, Gagosian, London, 12 January to 18 February. Details: Damien Hirst, Tate Modern, London SE1, 5 April to 9 September. Details:

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

Shrigley's cartoons, photographs and animations are painful, violent, nihilistic, appalling and very often hilarious. Frequently emulated but never bettered, his humour is as dark as it gets. Hayward Gallery, London SE1, 1 February to 13 May. Details:

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Returning to Yorkshire, Hockney has swapped the sprinkled lawns and sunny pools of southern California for muddy fields, stands of beeches, and plain-air painting on brisk northern days. He is a great draughtsman and his art can be very atmospheric, sexy and sophisticated. I am more curious than hopeful about his later work. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, 21 January to 9 April. Details:

Gillian Wearing

Wearing's photographs and films dig under the skin of everyday life. She is much more interesting than the confessional humiliations of reality TV, conflating a mania for self-exposure with a lightness and human touch, deft humour and a sense of life's pathos. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London E1, 28 March to 17 June. Details: 020-7522 7888.

Tino Sehgal

Dancing gallery attendants, art-history kisses, conversations with precocious children: Sehgal's art is one of live confrontation and surprise. The Turbine Hall commission goes to an artist whose work is as social as it is theatrical. Tate Modern, London SE1, 17 July – 28 October.

Yoko Ono

How substantial an artist Ono is remains a question, though her impact on contemporary art has been described as "enormous". Her delightful small gestures, vulnerability and benign silliness can get overlooked. She'll be uploading smiles from around the world for a new work here. Serpentine Gallery, London W2, 19 June to 9 September. Details:

Lucian Freud

More than 100 portraits by the painter, who died in 2011. The subject of many exhibitions, Freud continues to surprise and bewilder, however familiar many of his paintings may be. The longer you look, the weirder and more impressive he gets. National Portrait Gallery, London WC2, 9 February to 27 May. Details:

Documenta 13

This five-yearly keynote show of contemporary art worldwide, held in the German town of Kassel, is like sticking a wet finger in the air to check the wind. Polemical, political, always controversial, Documenta depends on the strengths – and weaknesses – of its invited curators. This time the team is led by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Kassel, Germany, 9 June to 16 September. Details:

Glasgow international festival

A corrective to Cultural Olympiad madness, this always impressive festival features Richard Wright at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, "performed installations" at Tramway, and Transmission's show of works by anonymous artists. More than 130 artists will show in 50 venues around the only British city outside London with a distinctive scene of its own. Various venues, 20 April to 7 May. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 18 2011

René Magritte: enigmatic master of the impossible dream

On the eve of a major Magritte exhibition, artists with an eye for the peculiar reveal why they love the witty Belgian surrealist

TERRY GILLIAM Film director and former member of Monty Python

It wasn't until I'd seen Magritte's work collected together in an exhibition at the Tate, at the end of the 1960s I think, that I realised just how incredibly funny his stuff was. People walk around these exhibitions in a religious state of awe and I just walked round this one laughing uncontrollably. Until then, I'd always thought of Magritte as having an interesting and intriguing mind – the way he would turn things inside out or make that which was solid suddenly not solid. But suddenly here he was, this wonderfully dry joke teller. The work that really struck me that day was The Man in the Bowler Hat [1964]. He'd spent months painting a guy in a bowler hat and then, for his last brush strokes, paints a dove flying in front of the man's face. What's happened there could happen only in a photograph and he's done a painting of it. What a comedian! I thought he was so clever. If it wasn't for the ideas I wouldn't say he was a great painter because others have a better technique. But he does what he needs to do and does it so well.

All of the surrealists got into my head, but Magritte was so direct. I liked how immediate his work was, whereas the others were more abstract. His work can be complex but in a sense he takes cliché images and puts them together in ways that surprise you. There's a night scene, but the sky is day [The Dominion of Light, 1953], there's a pair of shoes that are actually feet [The Red Model, 1934]. His work has an initial gag, but the stuff sticks with you because it's in some ways profound.

He is so firmly lodged in my brain that frequently I'll see something and think, "Oh, that's a bit Magrittean". I'll look out of my window at dusk and see the house across the street catching the last bit of sunlight, except the sky behind it is already night. He captures moments of light in the day that are just odd. I used to think it was a fantasy of his, but I now find it happening all the time. Like every good artist, he makes us see the everyday differently but he does it without the pretension of so many other artists. That's another thing I like about him, that he didn't have this serious "I am an artist" approach. He went to work with a suit and a briefcase, everything about him was taking the piss out of art yet at the same time he was a wonderful artist.

In my work, I can never find a direct line between what I've done and where it's come from, but I do know where the influences are and they all end up in a kind of Irish stew in my brain. I would never want to say: "I nicked that from Magritte", because that's criminal investigation time! But it would be fair to say that with the landscapes and blue skies in the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus I could've been stealing from either Magritte or Microsoft Windows. What Microsoft did was a direct steal from Magritte! Other people paint more elaborate skies, but it's the clarity of his painting – the perfect blue sky with the perfect clouds floating in it – that's just so appealing.

Were the other Pythons influenced by Magritte? No. I'm not sure what the word is for being illiterate at art. Maybe blind. That's what they were. Years ago, we were in a hotel in Munich and John [Cleese] called me and said: "I'm going over to the Pinakothek. Do you want to come and explain art to me?" So I went along and I didn't explain art to him because that's not what I do, but I did get him looking at a thermostat on the wall and discussing it in great detail. We managed to gather quite a crowd.

I suppose with my work I'm always trying to get people to see what the world is capable of, to show how it can be seen in a very different way and Magritte did that all the time. When you start thinking differently like that, reality becomes a kind of game. In the 60s, people took drugs to achieve that state, but for a lot of people it was enough to go and look at a Magritte painting.


Whenever I drive in any mountainous region and look at the line against the sky, I think of Magritte. And whenever I see beautiful, perfect clouds in the sky, he's the first thing that comes to mind. I think there is a humanity, a generosity and a kindness to others in Magritte's work. He takes the viewer into account. And I have always found the economy of his images very moving. They communicate very purely and directly. One of the most profound pieces of Magritte's is Discovery [1928]. It is an image of a woman whose flesh resembles the grain in wood. There is this aspect of Magritte which is about dealing with the world around us, and there is a certain materiality, a reality about that world that he creates, even though he makes these strange juxtapositions.

It is hard to imagine a lot of the computer programs that we work with in daily life, such as Photoshop, without the influence of Magritte. We owe to Magritte the many ways that we see the world through transparency or gradation. So I hold him in high esteem for showing us how images can be overlapped, or how they can be gradated into each other. I wouldn't say I've ever made a piece in direct response to his work, but I can see there are works that show an interest in what he was doing. Take Les Idées Claires [1955], one of the two Magritte paintings that I have loaned to the Tate exhibition. Here, you see a rock hovering over the ocean underneath a cloud. I can associate that with one of my Equilibrium Tank sculptures of basketballs suspended in vitrines of water.

© This is an edited extract from Tate ETC magazine

NOEL FIELDING Artist and co-creator of The Mighty Boosh

I love how Magritte's paintings initially look quite normal. He lures you in with the colours and compositions and shortly after the concept blows your mind. You think: "That's just a normal… aagh!"  They're like Trojan horses.

I've still got the first book I had of Magritte's work. It's stolen from the library, that's so bad! I was about 12 years old and looking at the paintings was a bit like taking drugs. They're such strong, stimulating images for a child because at that age you don't drink, you don't take drugs and you're not really interested in girls.

The first painting that made me think, "Oh my god, that's something amazing" was Young Girl Eating a Bird [1927]. I liked how enigmatic Magritte's work was, how you didn't quite know what was going on. Surrealism and absurdity, Monty Python and Vic Reeves, they were the first things that I really buzzed off and thought, "wow, that's what I want to do". The fact that there was a surrealist movement really appealed to me too, that they met up and drank crème de menthe in weird Parisian cafes. I loved that these grown men like Breton and Magritte would really seriously discuss poems, automatic writing and painting and then put things in their magazines like a man throwing a rock at a priest. I guess it was quite punk at the time.

Magritte's paintings always make me laugh. I don't care if other people say they're not funny. I find it ridiculous when you walk around a gallery and people are just looking at something obviously funny and stroking their chins. A Magritte painting such as the reverse mermaid [Collective Invention, 1934] is like a stand-up joke. Comedians do those reverse jokes all the time. When I was quite young, I did a painting of a cat phoning the fire brigade and an old lady stuck up a tree.

It's the juxtaposition in the paintings that is also very stimulating. I think it was Terry Jones who said something about two disparate ideas coming together and creating a star. And that's what it's all about for me. In The Mighty Boosh, we have a character called Old Gregg who is a merman but he's also a bit like [musician] Rick James. Those two things shouldn't ever go together. But when you get it right it's perfect.

Some of my own paintings are definitely influenced by Magritte. The stillness and the weirdness of Bryan Ferry with a Kite, in which Bryan Ferry has got a kite for a head, that's one of them. But he was also one of mine and Julian Barratt's joint favourites and that's apparent in the Boosh. For ages, we even wanted to have a pipe as an actual character who floated around and talked. But it was too difficult. You can see from what Julian wears that he likes the whole Magritte aesthetic – the bowler hats, the trench coats and the weird city-gent-gone-wrong look. Together, lookswise, we're like Dalí and Magritte. Dalí was more my type: flamboyant, a mad freak.

My new show for E4 has even more references to art. It's set in a place that's supposed to be my house, I look like a Bollywood Elvis and my cleaner is a robotic Andy Warhol. At one point, Warhol borrows a rucksack from Magritte to go on holiday with Jackson Pollock and Keith Haring and when he turns around a train comes out of the rucksack, like the train coming out of the fireplace in Time Transfixed [1938].I say to Warhol: "I bet that gets a bit annoying", and he responds, in his robotic voice: "No, you can get loads in there."

Magritte's paintings are insane, but they're often really good one-liners so they're a great source for a surreal comedy show.


When Magritte was 13, his mother committed suicide and, apparently, when the police retrieved her body from the river Sambre, Magritte was there and he saw how her face was covered by her dress. My own art and the research I do around it is all about neuroscience, how brains function, how memory functions, so this episode in Magritte's life and the way it subsequently influenced his art really intrigues me. If you look at The Lovers [1928], where two people have clothes over their face, I think that work specifically draws on that episode with his mother. But more generally, his work explores memory, his funny perception of reality and for me that all comes from his memory of that event. In Le Blanc-Seing [1965], for example, which features a woman on a horse in a wood, there are almost two paintings. The way his paintings constantly shift between what is real, something he can see or saw, and something he really wants to see is what draws me into his work.


One of the great things about Magritte's work, especially The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) [1921] is it dismantles the idea of pictures themselves. It makes the audience consider what they're looking at and take a step back. You can see that Magritte painted to experiment with his own thinking. His work is a thinking through pictures. I probably first came across the work when I was on my art foundation course and I remember my sense of relief to find that his work was immediately gettable. Some people today don't identify with the themes he's exploring or perhaps can't see past the cliché. But the way he suggestively starts to make the audience question how they see things is something that I try to include in my own art.

There are two works of Magritte's which I've more or less directly appropriated in my works Oscar and Cripple. They are The Ellipsis [1948] and The Cripple [1948], from his vache period, when he started painting more loosely, almost in a semi-expressionistic style. This period was a disaster for Magritte: the critics panned the work and the collectors ran away. But I love that he was fed up with being expected to be a certain kind of artist and was challenging his signature style. This new style almost allowed the audience in slightly closer, to get more of an insight into Magritte himself. I made two sculptures, three dimensional self-portraits, that were then reconfigured to look like these two paintings by Magritte. I was dealing with the idea of my own personal representation, my own ideas of authorship.

I also like the happy oddness, the sense of the uncanny in Magritte's work. In a way, there's a non-threatening but uncomfortable sensation. In an era before Photoshop, he slammed together things from different worlds and played with scale. If I were to draw parallels between his work and mine it would be that we combine disparate ideas or use this sense of the uncanny to make proposed alternatives. A work of mine like the bronze binbag sculpture is a good example – it seems straightforward, it's a shiny binbag, but then it starts to make you ask questions. It's a painted bronze sculpture, so there's this sense of permanence when actually a black plastic bag is probably a key symbol of impermanence.


A Magritte work that I always return to is The Treachery of Images, because we have it at the LA County Museum. It's a kind of touchstone of his. He's affirming the slipperiness, or as he calls it the treachery, of images, of language – that a word and an object have no necessary connection other than that we collectively assigned that word and that object to go together. I really appreciate his word play.

He also does a lot of the things I try to do with my work, making life a little difficult or a little challenging for the viewer who would like things to be comfortable. I think the reason Magritte has been so influential on popular culture is because he deals with images that we know – a person or a house or a street or a horse.

The images aren't misshapen or distorted – he just puts them together in combinations that we don't usually think about. And in terms of advertising, Magritte and Dalí probably have been the most influential artists, so much that we don't even see it anymore. Take, for example, CBS TV's logo, the eye. I believe that comes directly from him [from the work The False Mirror, 1928]. He's everywhere.

EDWARD HALL Theatre director

In the theatre you try and create a sense of mystery. You're raising questions, putting ordinary situations in front of people and shining new light on them. Magritte does that in his paintings, using objects that you know really well. When I directed Twelfth Night, there was a moment in my production where Viola, disguised as a boy, looks in the mirror and sees herself for the first time as a man. That's always made me think of The False Mirror. Both of those things are about seeing something you've never seen before in a reflection of something familiar.

I had a picture of The Human Condition [1933] on my wall when I was a teenager which I'd cut out of a magazine because it looked interesting. My favourite now is The Treachery of Images. That's about not boiling things down to their lowest common denominator or about looking beyond what you think something is. The pipe expresses that idea in its simplest form. Of course it's not a pipe! Try and smoke it!

When you're working on a play, you're constantly trying not to make assumptions. As soon as you make assumptions, you stop investigating – what a story might mean, what the possibilities are within a scene. Go back to Greek drama, where the principle is that the opposite is always true, that raises as many questions as it answers. Shakespeare also challenges your expectations of people's behaviour in all sorts of ways. That's why his plays are constantly intriguing to watch. And in essence that's what Magritte does, too.


When I first became interested in art, at the age of 13 or 14, I was drawn to the otherness of art, the peculiarity and anarchy of it. For me, Magritte really represented that. Then, when I went to art school in the late 80s, I realised that his paintings were not very good, technically speaking. His work seemed a bit kitsch. But later I became interested in them again, as a vehicle for ideas. I've always loved the simplicity of his work and I think it becomes more profound the more you consider it.

In Magritte's oeuvre there are quite a few odd paintings that are jarring. One of my favourites is Young Girl Eating a Bird, an image of a girl eating a bird in front of a tree full of exotic-looking birds. As soon as I saw it, I thought, that's a really strange, perverse picture, whereas a lot of the others seem quite sanitised.

Growing up in provincial England, I lived a long way from London so my introduction to contemporary art was through Thames and Hudson books. Magritte is illustrative in style, so you can get it without necessarily having to see the physical object of the painting, because you're still invited to think about the idea.

It's hard to trace an artist's influence, but I think Magritte is a important image maker, a conceptual painter. He's more like Duchamp or Picabia. For me, he is the quintessential surrealist.

Additional research by Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool from Friday until 16 October © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 04 2011

Let's launch a festival of the impossible | Andy Field

Wouldn't it be fun to give a platform to all those unfulfilled creative concepts that never see the light of day?

In December last year I sat down at this same laptop, stared vacantly at the same page I'm looking at now, and tried to imagine a theatre show. I'd be sent the call for applications to the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust award, a hiccup-inducing £50,000 for an emerging theatre-maker to create a site-responsive piece for the 2012 Create Festival.

I like applications like this one. Applications that function more like a specifically outlined creative challenge than a vertigo-inducing blank canvas. For me, this kind of application often becomes not simply a means of communicating an idea for a show, but almost a miniature performance in its own right. An imaginative and occasionally subversive response to a set of circumstances that need never be realised in flesh and paint to be considered a meaningful piece of art.

Such an approach reminds me of projects such as Claes Oldenburg's Proposed Colossal Monuments, impossible Dadaist visions for towers and memorials; such as a submerged reef in New York Harbour slowly piling up with the rusting carcasses of ships caught on it, proposed as "a monument to immigration" for the World's Fair of 1961. Or perhaps Tim Etchells' Readymades, a series of beautifully conceived pieces to accompany various art biennales across Europe; "found incidents" from the host city, a team of men selling fake designer bags in Venice or a group just sitting by a roadside in Istanbul, that gently interweave the high art language of the biennale with the language of the streets and suburbs surrounding it.

These responses were clearly intended to be seen regardless of any concrete realisation, but following their lead, perhaps we could imagine the flood of proposals instigated by something like the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust award as a spectacular creative event in its own right? An unseen festival of imagined events. If the few proposals I read are an indication of the general standard, then somewhere on a hard drive in Oxford is a vibrant archive of hopes and ideas; a great collaborative map of our current creative fascinations.

On that hard drive is where most of those proposals will likely remain, whittled down to just one winner. This year it will not be me. I, like many, received my polite "thanks, but no thanks" last week. So now what? How many of those ideas will struggle into existence through some other route? How many will just be left as they are? Could we not all gather together, the also-rans and the deranged no-hopers, and share that archive of ideas in some other way?

At the Cornerhouse in Manchester recently there was an exhibition called Unrealised Potential, now touring to the Void in Derry, the latest iteration of a brilliant ongoing project curated by Sam Ely and Lynn Harris. This most recent version, created in collaboration with Mike Chavez-Dawson, brings together unfulfilled projects by an incredible range of artists including David Shrigley and Liam Gillick. In the process it begins to open up exactly these questions around the persistence of the unrealised idea and its value, both conceptual and financial.

Some part of me thinks it'd be nice if every open application ended with a similar event, an opportunity for artists and anyone else interested to come together; to share and celebrate, to ponder and to plot. A moment to cherish the value of an idea however inconceivable it proved to be. If nothing else it would undeniably be an improvement on the quiet filing of another rejection letter. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 14 2010

Frieze 2010: Doing the fair for free

Despite the glam and glitz, there's more to the Frieze art fair than money-making. Andrew Dickson sets out in search of the fair's alternative side

October 13 2010

Frieze gets into gear

An excavated city, a bus that thinks it's a cat, a roving posse of embarrassed men, the sex life of octopuses . . . Adrian Searle gets lost in Frieze

I came looking for the House of Pleasure. The pamphlet mentions "erotic carvings and bisexual murals" and the remains of a civilisation so decadent it considered human meat a luxury to die for. It features the skeleton of a dead artist under the floor, a crumbling ancient art market, broken columns, and a promise of instant gratification. It is all a fake – but that's art fairs for you.

Simon Fujiwara's fictional Frozen City, of which the House of Pleasure forms part, is made out of distressed, painted polystyrene, fabricated by a company that specialises in making tableaux for museum displays. This ancient, corrupt city is a spoof series of archeological excavations beneath the floor of all the marquees that house the Frieze art fair in London's Regent's Park.

Utterly realistic, the excavations are dotted about the fair, Fujiwara's purpose being to comment on the corruption, the turmoil, the cannibalism and the rampant sex that art fairs, with all that money changing hands, give rise to. The chance would be the thing. I eventually found Fujiwara's House of Pleasure. It's a hole in the ground covered in thick glass. Down in the hole is a statue of a man with an enormous erection that points at nothing.

There was rumour of an actual hidden room somewhere at the fair, where punters can indulge in actual sex in the dark. I never found it. David Shrigley did shave my tummy though, and wrote the word "writing" on it, in that wonky handwriting of his. I was hoping for a permanent tattoo. Sadly, it'll wash off.

Most things at the art fair aren't what they seem. The ticket booth is a copy of a well-known high street mobile phone shop, replete with fluorescent pink signage, nasty stools, maroon carpet and staff who wear vile puce neckerchiefs. This is a project by Matthew Darbyshire, but most of the people queueing for tickets don't seem to notice the bad-taste interior, and probably think it's the height of chic, or what passes for it at Frieze.

At the fair, there are $10 paintings masquerading as million-dollar masterpieces, piles of rubbish pretending to be sculpture, sculptures pretending to be indoor water features, and real painted steel sculptures by Gabriel Kuri that double as ashtrays. It's like stubbing out a fag on an Anthony Caro. I use mine as a boot-scraper.

What is it about contemporary art? Last year's good is this year's bad. There are lots of tacky mannequins dotted about the place this time, some more human than others, and the occasional dealer so badly dressed and so transfixed by the lack of action that you think he's a shop dummy. I found lemons that aren't lemons, a fake $20,000 bill, and lots of newly poor collectors still pretending to be rich. Where's the buzz, where's the action?

Several artist-designed charity boxes dot the fair, each worth more than the money stuffed in them. The artists nominate the charities they are to go to. One charity box – by Nick Relph, who devised the project – is a garishly painted old phone kiosk, which he intends to donate to the Tate. Will the Tate accept it? Will they then resell it to realise some cash for that new extension they want to build on Tate Modern? Maybe they could use Relph's phone box itself to house the new collection they can no longer afford to buy. Who knows. A posse of Tate curators stroll by, looking deeply unamused.

In the section called Frame, for younger galleries, MOT is showing Laure Prouvost. The clutter in the space is supposed to plunge you into the same world that's depicted in her films. Various signs say: "Idealy [sic] a window would be here"; "Idealy This Sign Would Take You In Its Arms." Ideally, this artist would learn to spell.

There are quite a few booths done out as rooms and habitations. A fake hotel room, Room 807, has taken over Vitamin Creative Space. But is the filth that scuffs and besmirches the high white walls of Rivane Neuenschwander's otherwise empty 1998 installation Work of Days real? Maybe it was clean when he first made it. Maybe someone hosed down and cleared out that bordello I've been looking all over for.

An anxious boy on a high diving board, by Elmgreen and Dragset, is one of the first things visitors see at this year's fair. It's called Catch Me Should I Fall. The boy looks cold up there. But maybe its Jeppe Hein's shivering, vibrating mirror on the wall nearby that makes us feel this way. I quiver in the mirror's juddering reflection. Everyone quivers in this mirror, actually. Is this a metaphor, or is it one of Regent's Park's famous earthquakes? I want to hide.

Right at the far end of the fair is a breeze-block cabin. It's dark in there, just one bare bulb and a microphone. When I go in, someone is talking about the octopus, its sex life, all those limbs it has. I can't make head nor tail of Shannon Ebner and Dexter Sinister's "reading room", where various stories are recorded and relayed. At the end of the fair, these recordings will be played to an audience on the 31st floor of the Chrysler building in New York. Why, you ask, why?

Weaving through the schmoozing, air-kissing, glad-handing hordes in the labyrinth of galleries, projects, big-mistake artworks and smaller treasures, a gaggle of cross-looking, white-shirted men keep hoving into view. These are Annika Ström's Ten Embarrassed Men, who patrol the fair looking for images of women to be embarrassed by. "Grrrr," they go and mill about. I feel like going "Grrrr" too, going from stand to stand, looking for that killer artwork, something to remember the fair by. This year, the general standard seems to be down.

At last I find something magical in the form of the eccentrically named Spartacus Chetwynd and her troupe of bizarre actors, performing A Tax Haven Run by Women, another of Frieze's special projects. Abject human seals drag themselves across the floor, their costumes a bloated rag-bag of remnants. A sinister looking chap called Cult Leader Asshole – a sort of pope – hangs about, while haughty senoras dance, and another gaggle of troupers, some with their foam-rubber, pipe-lagging entrails, make an incomprehensible appearance. There is a cat-bus, or a bus in the form of a cat, with too many crustacean-like legs, whose shape comes from a Manga animation. There is also a group of "women who refuse to grow old gracefully". They are warring with an "oppressed body-part puree", though I might be wrong.

I didn't understand anything. It had something to do with cults, and maybe they all drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid at the end and died, but I had to leave. It was delightful, stupid, faintly nightmarish and carnivalesque. But then the whole fair is like that. Bring on the body parts. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 10 2010

David Shrigley saves the arts

Watch a brilliant new film by David Shrigley, part of a new campaign to save the arts from funding cuts

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