How We Met: David Shrigley & Jeremy Deller


Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Shrigley, 43

A visual artist, Shrigley is known for his deliberately crude drawings and animations that offer wry observations on everyday life. He lives with his partner in Glasgow.

My impression of people in the London art scene was always of an arrogant, elitist group of untouchables, which is what I expected to find when Jeremy and a bunch of London types came up to Glasgow in 1994 to visit a mutual friend, [the curator] Toby Webster. But to my surprise Jeremy wasn't part of that vulgar London YBA scene; he was personable.

Toby had an art space in Glasgow and lived round the corner from me, so whenever Jeremy was in town we'd go for a drink. He's a bit of an Astaire character, a petite dandy, and very light on his feet.

I saw him at quite of a lot of events, and when my career kicked off in 1997, Jeremy came to all my London openings – though at that stage I wasn't sure if it was to support me or because he would've gone to the opening of an envelope.

People who are naturally shy, such as me, are attracted to the opposite, such as Jeremy, He gives me energy and he's entertaining. To look at him you'd think he doesn't eat enough, but he seems to be getting thinner while I'm getting fatter; it's all that energy he uses.

He has a big appetite for foreign culture and it's quite infectious, so he's a great friend to go away with. We both took part in a British Council show in Athens, and as it didn't take us long to put our sets up, it was basically a free holiday for us. He's such a lively person that, of course, he wanted to see every ancient ruin.

We approach our art very differently: I'm very creative, I make something from nothing so I don't need any material, but Jeremy comes at it from the other end and needs cultural reference points in order to make it work. He's a social anthropologist who synthesizes contemporary culture and shines a light on things that need illuminating.

It's inspiring to have a friend who's made one of the greatest works of the past 20 years – which is how I see his Battle of Orgreave piece [a re-enactment of the confrontation between police and picketing miners in Yorkshire, during the 1984 miners' strike]. It recontextualises an event a generation is familiar with and says something powerful about it.

Jeremy Deller, 45

A conceptual artist and Turner Prize winner, Deller is best known for his 2001 Battle of Orgreave work and the accompanying 'Archive' exhibition at Tate Britain. He lives in London.

I knew about Dave's work before I knew about him. I'd seen the little books he'd made and heard him referred to. Not that much art makes you laugh out loud; artists take themselves far too seriously for that. But with Dave's stuff, there's a dark humour there, which I love.

The first time I remember him clearly was in his kitchen in his flat in Glasgow, with his friend [the artist] Jonathan Monk. They were improvising with kitchen objects, competing to be funny, and I wanted to get to know him better.

I know a bit about his upbringing now and his work makes a lot more sense; it makes it funnier. He was brought up around religion, and I think it's made him very anti-religious, which you can see in a lot of his work. But you wouldn't want his drawings to be him – all that relentless dark humour, joke after joke: he'd be locked up! Thankfully, in person he's much quieter, but no less funny for that.

The thing about Dave and me is the height thing; he's 6ft 5in and I'm 5ft 5in. It can be quite difficult talking to him. He has this easy, understated manner that I think is linked to being tall; I think it makes him more self-conscious. Me, on the other hand... especially in the early days, I'd visit him in Glasgow and be bouncing off the walls: I can get away with running around like that because my height is more like a child's.

We've ended up in some unlikely places together. On a work trip to Greece we went to a fancy spa hotel together to kill some time. We were walking round in our underpants, as we didn't have trunks, and these women working there asked if we'd like some treatments together; we were both rather embarrassed.

Our work couldn't be more different, which is one reason we get on, I think, as there's no competition between us. If I was doing cartoon-type work, he would be someone to measure against, which can be toxic to a friendship.

What I love about his images is that there's a wonderfully childlike quality to them, although they're often actually pretty complex. My favourite was a poster for a "lost pigeon" stapled to a tree with a phone number to ring if anyone found it. He used his real number, which I thought was amazing, as it showed he's much more hardcore then you might think.

David Shrigley's show Brain Activity is at the Hayward Gallery, London SE1, until 21 February; Jeremy Deller's Joy in People is at the same gallery from 22 February to 13 May (