Macclesfield-born artist David Shrigley opened his new visual art exhibition ‘How Are You Feeling?’ at Manchester’s Cornerhouse Gallery last weekend.
Shrigley’s style is frequently compared to ‘outsider art’ – a term, originating in the mid-20th Century, that refers to work produced by artists uncontained to an established art scene.
Originally this meant looking to the work of children and asylum inmates, which is somewhat pertinent to the subject matter of Shrigley’s new exhibition.
‘How Are You Feeling?’ is a familiar term to those in the mental health industry, often heard by those in need of psychiatric help, and seems an apt name for the exhibition given its content.
The second floor gallery of Cornerhouse is literally plastered with deliberately crude depictions of various humanoid figures and child-like scrawl on self-ruled paper.
The seemingly inept execution is followed by a bizarre range of content. Written words form a stream of conscious thought on the paper, often at comic juxtaposition with the cartoonish characters they are scribbled over.
This inimitable flow of ideas onto paper is evidenced by frequent crossings-out of mistakes, left in as a tribute to the artistic process.
The content of the pieces themselves ranges from absurdist humour to mordant commentary on the notion of high art.
The overarching theme was at the lively opening night: art that makes you smile.
Speaking during the debut viewing, Shrigley said: “Most of the pieces are about the therapeutic potential of artwork.”
As well as the blatant anti-depressive qualities of his drawings, other items in the exhibition tackle further aspects of being mentally healthy.
At the entrance of every gallery is a Napping Station for when you get a bit tired of looking at all those drawings.
There is a projection of Shrigley’s short film, The Artist, which explains how art makes the world a better place, and next to that a gong which ‘makes a pleasing sound if you drum lightly in the middle’.
And easing their way past the throng of onlookers is a staff member wearing an enormous backpack. The description of this piece, The Burden, reads: “Feel free to ask them about it. It’s good to talk about this kind of thing.”
There’s also a whiteboard to write down your feelings, as it’s good to let them out.
In fact most of the pieces in the exhibition require a degree of participation from visitors in order to finish them.
A giant animatronic humanoid stands among art-room chairs in the upper gallery, posing for a life drawing class.
The walls here are covered – not in Shrigley’s work – but in the interpretations of his sculpture, drawn by visitors.
As the sculpture itself has his distinct style of drawing, many of the imitations actually fit with the rest of his exhibition.
Beside the sculpture is a stage, which on opening night played host to a Shrigley-penned play, Self Portrait.
The performance was possibly the most intriguing part of the exhibit, as it never ended, and still continues even now, with or without actors as a filmed version loops on a TV next to the stage.
The interesting aspect of the play, however, is that everyone is an actor and the script is available from the gallery and all props are provided, allowing anyone to perform in Self Portrait.
The story is a curious insight into Shrigley’s experience of being an artist, asking questions about the nature of contemporary art and its collectors.
When asked about the play, Shrigley said: “I wanted the art to be inclusive and continuous. I didn’t want it to just be an event-based piece.”
True to his vision, the play continues until the exhibition ends on January 6. For information, including booking yourself in to perform, visit cornerhouse.org/david-shrigley.