The story of how David Shrigley drew all over me

David Shrigley is about to be given the major survey treatment by the Hayward Gallery thanks to new exhibition Brain Activity which opens 1 February. It seems as good an excuse as any to tell you about the time  David Shrigley drew on me…

Last year I was up un Liverpool covering the fabulous Abandon Normal Devices festival for Wired.co.uk. One of the pieces was a pop-up tattoo studio where the artist David Shrigley – best known for his cartoonish doodly style (in the nicest possible way) – would sit you down for a chat and doodle on your skin. When he was finished you could either leave the drawings to fade as with any biro marks would or you could nip off to the nearby tattoo studio and have his work made permanent.

David Shrigley's pop up tattoo parlour (Photo: Philippa Warr)

I wasn’t actually waiting to have it done but I was chatting to a girl who had decided to request a pair of teeth  on her forearm and had stayed to take photos of the proceedings. After he had finished drawing her teeth he asked if I fancied a turn. Why not?

And so I ended up in the window of a shop in Liverpool while shoppers watched David Shrigley draw a heart around the word ‘SEX’ which he had just written  below my elbow. As I recall, we both giggled and then he informed me that you can’t have ‘sex’ without ‘drugs’ and proceeded to balance things out with a heart on the other elbow. “Shame about the rock and roll,” I said. And that was how the knuckles were added to the equation.

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll - David Shrigley (Photo: Philippa Warr)

He was a really lovely bloke and I actually stayed chatting to him for about ten minutes, talking about Scotland and Leicester (where I think his parents are from). At one point we were talking about how many people had made their doodles permanent and he seemed a little uneasy about it. He asked whether I was planning on having mine done and I said no – I think that liking the man and his artwork isn’t quite the same as getting SEX and DRUGS tattooed on my arms permanently. I joked that perhaps the ROCK and ROLL could stay and he looked a little concerned. Perhaps if he’d thought I was there for an actual tattoo he might have drawn something different.

Before I left he told me about a time he’d done the tattoo on a man in America. I forget the exact details but basically Shrigley had doodled extensively on the guy’s torso but to this day doesn’t know whether the man converted the biro drawings to a full-on tattoo. Every time I see something about the Hayward Gallery’s Shrigley exhibition it reminds me of that mystery man and his body of drawings. I wonder whether he could just rock up to the Hayward and add himself to the show as a kind of living artwork?

David Shrigley: Brain Activity, 1 February – 13 May, Hayward Gallery

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