David Shrigley’s got jokes. But there’s a mastery to his scratchy drawings and cerebral musings — the visual equivalents of perfectly timed punchlines; and the Glaswegian absurdist artist always has the last laugh. He has stalwart fans (some go as far as to turn his doodles into tattoos) and the art world takes him seriously (a Turner Prize nomination, Hayward Gallery retrospective, and works held in the Tate Modern and Museum of Modern Art collections will attest). In addition to his myriad exhibitions and publications, Shrigley directed music videos for Blur and Bonnie “Prince” Billy; designed 12 covers for Deerhoof’s record, Friend Opportunity; and collaborated on an album, Worried Noodles, for which 39 artists including David Byrne, Dirty Projectors, and Hot Chip interpreted his scrawls as lyrics. On the heels of the announcement that his tongue-in-cheek thumbs-up sculpture "Really Good" will give the finger to London’s Trafalgar Square in 2016, the artist amuses us with one-liners about his taxidermied dog, “I’m Dead,” and his real-life dog, a mini schnauzer named Inka.
You went to art school but your style of drawing is anything but formulaic. When did you start drawing in that distinct David Shrigley way?
To be honest, I’m not really aware of having a style. I have an attitude to drawing, I guess, but I think it’s the same attitude as I had when I was a young child — I just want to amuse myself.
A lot of elements in your work are crossed out and covered up. Are they honest mistakes?
They are real mistakes. I never draw things twice. It would be bad luck to do that.
Humor obviously plays a big part in your work. Are all of your works tongue-in-cheek or do they ever have a deeper message?
Humor is something that I seem to be unable to avoid. I never intended to be a humorous artist; that’s just the way I turned out. It has taken a long time for me to embrace the comedy of what I do. I used to think it was just a facet of a bigger entity, but I’ve realized it’s very much at the center of what I do.
When you do a funny drawing, do you laugh to yourself?
You certainly don’t censor your work, but do you edit?
I throw away 75% of all my drawings.
And your animated videos?
Animation is a far less intuitive process than drawing. It has to be since I can’t really afford to discard an animation once I’ve finished it in the same way I discard so many drawings. I think my optimum creative time is in the evening, for whatever I’m doing. That is when the good stuff happens most frequently.
Wolves feature often in your work. Why is that?
I guess wolves can be seen as metaphors. I like metaphors. Especially ambiguous metaphors.
You address a number of afflictions in your self-help book, How Are You Feeling. Do you suffer from any, and if so, do you take your own advice?
At the moment I’m suffering from a prolapsed disc in my lower back. I don’t think I’ve ever given out any advice about that.
What inspired the “I’m Dead” dog sculpture at your Hayward Gallery retrospective,
I guess it’s a piece about how weird taxidermy is. Amongst other things.
Please tell us about your dog!
My wife and I have a black miniature schnauzer called Inka. We don’t have kids so I guess she fills a gap for us, and of course is somewhat spoilt. I never liked or wanted a dog, but as soon as Inka arrived I did a total 180. Now I love all dogs. Inka is a pretty amiable dog, all things considered. She has a few bad habits, but then so do I… Happiness for me is walking on the beach with my wife and Inka.
What are you working on now?
I’m doing a commission for a restaurant in London called Sketch; I’ve designed a set of tableware and made 256 drawings to go on the wall. I am also making a collaborative spoken-word record with Malcolm Middleton, to be released in the autumn. In November, I have a new book coming out titled Weak Messages Create Bad Situations (Canongate) and a big exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
Interview has been edited and condensed, originally appearing in Four&Sons.