British satirist David Shrigley applies his keen observations as champagne house Ruinart’s artist of the year
“I have a motto: ‘If you put the hours in, then the work makes itself’,” notes David Shrigley, 51. “My work is created through the very process of making it. That’s just how I function. I adapt. I never have a plan.” Starting with a blank sheet of paper, he usually writes a list of things to draw, then draws everything on that list. Once that’s done, the story has begun, and he sometimes adds more words or pictures until eventually the entire page is full and the artwork complete. A keen observer known for his crude illustrations paired with poignant messages resembling scribbles by a cheeky schoolboy, he uses humour to satirise daily life and tackle serious issues like global warming, unemployment and child welfare. Now he’s Ruinart’s latest carte blanche artist, the 12th such partnership the champagne house has initiated since 2008 with today’s leading contemporary artists, from the likes of Maarten Baas and Erwin Olaf to Jaume Plensa and Liu Bolin.
My work is created through the very process of making it. That’s just how I function. I adapt. I never have a plan
“For this project, I made 100 drawings based on my experiences of being at Maison Ruinart,” says Shrigley. “I was really aware that less than a third of those would be used, that two out of every three would be discarded. That is the way I usually work. If I want 30 drawings, I need to make 90 drawings, and sometimes more than that.” The result was 36 colour and black-and-white drawings in acrylic or ink on paper; two giant glazed ceramic jars containing ideas and smells instead of liquid; three neon signs making thought-provoking statements and a doorway in wood and plaster marked with the word ‘elegance’, that the viewer is encouraged to crawl through – all created in Brighton.
Shrigley also spent a couple of days hand-carving 19 reliefs – a broken bottle, forklift truck, dinosaur, heart, mushroom, washing machine, some cavemen faces and the word ‘metamorphosis’ – onto the soft chalk walls of the labyrinthine Ruinart cellars located 30 metres underground, adding his graffiti artworks to the hundreds already existing, left anonymously throughout the centuries.
“One of the things I really like about this project is that I’m kind of free to say whatever I like. It’s just about having a creative response to the experience of being in Reims (where Ruinart is located),” Shrigley says. He applied his signature dry wit to artworks featuring the sun, rain, air, soil, vines, grapes, humans, micro-organisms and worms involved in champagne production and consumption. He also explored the importance of the savoir-faire passed down over generations, respect for nature and the environmental challenges of winemaking that had marked him during his visits to Ruinart. It was about seeing the brand through his own eyes and interpreting what he had learnt.
“One of the problems with my way of working is that when I say things through my work – the text and the image – I often don’t really know what I’m trying to say. I say it and then try to figure out what it means afterwards. Maybe it’s like when a child is learning how to speak. I like to think that all artwork is a work in progress; the meaning develops and changes depending on who views the work and the context in which they view it,” Shrigley explains. “So in a way, as an artist, you’re not always in control of that. Obviously things happen in the world and suddenly things become profound that weren’t profound before, and vice versa. That’s how I approach making art, and that’s what’s exciting for me.”