David Shrigley: Art has become about the richest 1 per cent and what they buy

Winning the Turner Prize would matter to "my mum and dad and to the commercial galleries that represent me."

David Shrigley is one of six artists in contention to make a work for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square for 2015 and 2016. His submission, “Really Good”, is a giant hand making a thumbs-up gesture. He is also nominated for this year’s Turner Prize. Work by the four nominees is on display in Derry-Londonderry as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations until 5 January 2014.

Are you an artist or a cartoonist?

I’d call myself both. If I’m working on paper, then I’m more of a cartoonist but if it’s a sculpture, then I’m an artist.

Can you draw?

I know how to draw – I was taught how to draw, though I’ve never been very good at it. So kind of yes and no. I could impress you if you couldn’t draw but I have very limited skills, for a professional artist.

Are you an insider or an outsider?

I’m very much an insider. I don’t think you can be nominated for the Turner Prize and be an outsider.

Do you ever fear you will dry up?

I never have so far but I do fear I might get bored doing what I’m doing. If I do, I might become a professional dog walker instead.

What do you think about all the Shrigley merchandise – cups, T-shirts, postcards?

Why don’t I make more money out of it? I don’t get paid by the people who make it, which is irritating. But then, if an image of mine works on a T-shirt or whatever, that’s all good. It doesn’t diminish it. If you put a Matisse painting on a greeting card, it diminishes it – but not one of my drawings.

What do you want from your Fourth Plinth entry?

I want the commission. Britain is full of civic spaces but Trafalgar Square is unlike any other civic space I can think of. The debate around contemporary art is often tedious, but not around the Fourth Plinth. The debate around the Turner Prize is “promoted” to get people who may not even like contemporary art to see the exhibition but your view about the Fourth Plinth is relevant because it stands in a civic space – so real people’s reactions matter. Also, potentially I get to make a massive sculpture. That’s exciting.

Would winning the Turner Prize matter?

It would matter to my mum and dad and to the commercial galleries that represent me. And it would matter to my ego. At a certain time in your career, the prize would make a really big difference – 12 years ago for me, perhaps, but less so now. But maybe I’m just telling myself that for when I don’t win.

How many drawings do you make a day?

If I dedicate a day to them, I can knock out about 30 with a 25 per cent success rate. Fewer than ten would make it into a frame. I tear the rest into pieces and put them in the recycling – and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to the New Statesman. I don’t feel I need to justify myself to you.

Do you collect art?

One ends up acquiring it. Other artists you’ve shared a flat with leave it behind. And then, when you have a bit of money . . . My wife has a habit of going to openings, charity things mostly, and getting drunk and buying pictures that end up in my studio when she sobers up.

Do you like fame?

No, I don’t. I’ve been on the telly a few times and I occasionally get recognised in Waitrose. I find it really intimidating.

Is humour always appropriate?

I think it is. Comedy is important in life. You can, of course, say the wrong thing at the wrong time but there’s always potential for comedy in every situation. But one wouldn’t want to bloody well offend anyone.

You are a musician as well as an artist. Do you wish you had followed that path more?

No, I think as a visual artist, you’re in your prime in your forties. As a rock star, you are way past it by then. That would be depressing. The fact that I’m in my mid-forties has nothing to do with it.

What do you make of the contemporary art world?

It’s a mixed bag. So many people make a good living out of contemporary art that you can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable. I suppose it mirrors the massive inequality within capitalist society – it’s about the richest 1 per cent and what they buy.

Are you political?

Yes. Everyone’s political. You can’t avoid it – or political debate, especially when you live in Scotland right now. [Shrigley studied at the Glasgow School of Art and has lived in the city for 20 years.] As an Englishman, I’ve only been treated differently during the World Cup or when other football is on and I’m in the pub. People make value judgements.

Scottish nationalism has an unpleasant side to it but I’ve never suffered racial abuse in a tangible way. I’d stay if Scotland became independent. I’m not going anywhere – except on holiday.

Why are you so fascinated with death?

It’s not just me. It is human to ponder the finite nature of life. I don’t think I’m obsessed with it. Death and some of the other themes in my work – violence and sexual perversion, for instance – are a bit taboo but they are sources of comedy, too, so naturally I want to touch on those things.

One of your best-known works is a stuffed Jack Russell holding a sign saying, “I’m dead.” Do you like dogs?

I like dogs very much. I have a dog. My recent work is positively pro-dogs. If I lost my dog, I’d be pretty upset. I wouldn’t have it stuffed, though. It would be pretty traumatic to have my little companion hanging around. If you’re going to have taxidermy in your home, make it the pelt of a stranger.

Life Model 2012 (Installation) Copyright David Shrigley, Tate Photography: Lucy Dawkins

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
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The best film soundtracks to help you pretend you live in a magical Christmas world

It’s December. You no longer have an excuse.

It’s December, which means it’s officially time to crack out the Christmas music. But while Mariah Carey and Slade have their everlasting charms, I find the best way to slip into the seasonal spirit is to use a film score to soundtrack your boring daily activities: sitting at your desk at work, doing some Christmas shopping, getting the tube. So here are the best soundtracks and scores to get you feeling festive this month.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Although this is a children’s film, it’s the most grown-up soundtrack on the list. Think smooth jazz with a Christmas twist, the kind of tunes Ryan Gosling is playing at the fancy restaurant in La La Land, plus the occasional choir of precocious kids. Imagine yourself sat in a cocktail chair. You’re drinking an elaborate cocktail. Perhaps there is a cocktail sausage involved also. Either way, you’re dressed head-to-toe in silk and half-heartedly unwrapping Christmas presents as though you’ve already received every gift under the sun. You are so luxurious you are bored to tears of luxury – until a tiny voice comes along and reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas. This is the kind of life the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack can give you. Take it with both hands.

Elf (2003)

There is a moment in Elf when Buddy pours maple syrup over his spaghetti, washing it all down with a bottle of Coca Cola. “We elves like to stick to the four main food groups,” he explains, “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” This soundtrack is the audio equivalent – sickly sweet, sugary to an almost cloying degree, as it comes peppered with cute little flutes, squeaky elf voices and sleigh bells. The album Elf: Music from the Motion Picture offers a more durable selection of classics used in the movie, including some of the greatest 1950s Christmas songs – from Louis Prima’s 1957 recording of “Pennies from Heaven”, two versions of “Sleigh Ride”, Eddy Arnold’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Eartha Kitt’s 1953 “Santa Baby”. But if a sweet orchestral score is more your thing, the Elf OST of course finishes things off with the track “Spaghetti and Syrup”. Just watch out for the sugar-rush headache.

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

There are some Christmas-specific songs hidden in each of the iconic Harry Potter scores, from “Christmas at Hogwarts” to “The Whomping Willow and The Snowball Fight” to “The Kiss” (“Mistletoe!” “Probably full of knargles”), but all the magical tinkling music from these films has a Christmassy vibe. Specifically concentrate on the first three films, when John Williams was still on board and things were still mostly wonderful and mystical for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Perfect listening for that moment just before the snow starts to fall, and you can pretend you’re as magical as the Hogwarts enchanted ceiling (or Ron, that one time).

Carol (2015)

Perhaps you’re just a little too sophisticated for the commercial terror of Christmas, but, like Cate Blanchett, you still want to feel gorgeously seasonal when buying that perfect wooden train set. Then the subtly festive leanings of the Carol soundtrack is for you. Let your eyes meet a stranger’s across the department store floor, or stare longingly out of the window as your lover buys the perfect Christmas tree from the side of the road. Just do it while listening to this score, which is pleasingly interspersed with songs of longing like “Smoke Rings” and “No Other Love”.

Holiday Inn (1942)

There’s more to this soundtrack than just “White Christmas”, from Bing Crosby singing “Let’s Start The New Year Off Right” to Fred Astaire’s “You’re Easy To Dance With” to the pair’s duet on “I’ll Capture Your Heart”. The score is perfect frosty walk music, too: nostalgic, dreamy, unapologetically merry all at once.

The Tailor of Gloucester (1993)

Okay, I’m being a little self-indulgent here, but bear with me. “The Tailor of Gloucester”, adapted from the Beatrix Potter story, was an episode of the BBC series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends and aired in 1993. A Christmastime story set in Gloucester, the place I was born, was always going to be right up my street, and our tatty VHS came out at least once a year throughout my childhood. But the music from this is something special: songs “The Tailor of Gloucester”, “Songs From Gloucester” and “Silent Falls the Winter Snow” are melancholy and very strange, and feature the singing voices of drunk rats, smug mice and a very bitter cat. It also showcases what is in my view one of the best Christmas carols, “Sussex Carol.” If you’re the kind of person who likes traditional wreaths and period dramas, and plans to watch Victorian Baking at Christmas when it airs this December 25th, this is the soundtrack for you.

Home Alone (1990-1992)

The greatest, the original, the godfather of all Christmas film soundtracks is, of course, John William’s Home Alone score. This is for everyone who likes or even merely tolerates Christmas, no exceptions. It’s simply not Christmas until you’ve listened to “Somewhere in My Memory” 80,000 times whilst staring enviously into the perfect Christmassy homes of strangers or sung “White Christmas” to the mirror. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Go listen to it now—and don't forget Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which is as good as the first.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.