If you’ve seen one thing on Instagram, it will be a David Shrigley artwork. Whether it’s his wall-to-wall installation in the pink high tea room at Mayfair’s cult Sketch Restaurant, or witty take downs of the everyday ennui of modern day life ― like fallen ice creams and botched attempts at art ― for any emotion or anxiety you’ve had, there’s a Shrigley print to match it. In anticipation of World Mental Health Day on Sunday 10th October, we look at five ways the artist made us think differently about mental health.
Shrigley has led the way in the concept of art as therapy, and finally, science is catching up. A 2018 report by mental health charity Arts and Minds found that after only one month of weekly art courses, 73% of people said their depression significantly decreased. Of course, Shrigley knew this all along. His line drawing depicting an old-fashioned tea pot emblazoned with ‘The Arts’ pouring into a small cup marked ‘Lost Soul’ perfectly captures the mood of artists worldwide, who find the artistic lifestyle a tonic for the soul. Ever the comedian, Shrigley knows that these are the conditions great art is created in, personifying this struggle in his cartoon-like drawing as a lesson to persist despite challenges. Shrigley is a big proponent of the power of the arts for mental and physical health, even using it as a method to deal with his own anxiety.
Shrigley hasn’t just dipped his toe in the pools of mental health, he’s written a book on it. His cult favourite self-care manual How Are You Feeling? is the handbook for managing your mental health, particularly if you have a creative mind. In this book, the artist created his very own acronym for positive mental health. Believe it or not, it’s FURRY, which should be easy to remember — it stands for “Feel Uplifted Really Really Yes”. Typically idiosyncratic of Shrigley, his book is filled with illustrious yet cynical drawings. He shows us how reading can sooth your mind and make you into someone who can quote FURRY at acquaintances with conviction.
Shrigley once stated in an interview that “more than anything else, I know I need to laugh at things” and it is this mantra that underpins his aesthetic, as well as the global fanbase who love his everyday pokes at the ups and downs of life. In his piece I'm Sorry For Being Awful, he offers a smorgasbord of emotions that will guarantee to make you laugh. In the piece, Shrigley doesn’t advocate for the neoliberalist individualism that characterises a lot of mental health discourse, but instead he says “there is something essential and divine about laughing with a group of human beings. I think what I do is provide a view of psychosis written from the point of view of someone who is a bit mad but thinks everyone else is madder”. It makes sense then, that the renowned American writer Dave Eggers called Shrigley “probably the funniest gallery-type artist who ever lived”.
The popular self-care mantra ‘you are where you’re meant to be’ might have been monopolised by influencers trying to sell wellness products, but it was pioneered by Shrigley. In his 2015 screen print It’s OK he throws back to that mantra, telling us that, yes, the road is long, but we are exactly where we’re meant to be. Shrigley also captures the true crux of mental health in his print The World, depicting a basketball with the short poem: “The World… Hard to predict what it will do”.
Shrigley is famously a truth teller, and he knows better than most that life is at once heartbreakingly funny, unpredictable and joyous. People act according to their internal compass, and we can’t control the future, so why not relax and have a glass of wine while you watch it all unfold? In his 2021 screen print Wine, he pokes fun at the self-care mantra that wine heals all. Clearly, Shrigley is not advocating the use of wine as a therapy, but nods in a tongue-in-cheek way to how the small things can brighten your day.