Having made a career out of whimsical, doodle-like captioned images that capture the absurdity of the human condition, Shrigley is just about the last artist you’d expect to participate in a life drawing class, which makes his project all the funnier. None of his many renderings of bodies or body parts—including his sculptural commission for London’s Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square this past September, Really Good, a giant bronze hand giving the thumb’s up sign with a disproportionately long thumb—are particularly realistic, which is a large part of the charm of his work, and also what makes the life drawing exercise so curious.
“I’m not trying to draw badly. I’m just trying to draw without any consideration of craft,” he told
the New York Times Magazine
several years ago. In an essay for the Rose show, its curator, Kim Conaty, notes that Shrigley had little interest in the “requisite life drawing classes” as a student in the 1980s and ’90s at the Glasgow School of Art, a hotbed of figurative painting at the time. So, in effect, he “asks viewers to work in a manner precisely distinct from his own,” writes Conaty.
That manner is also distinctly unlike the conventional academic practice. Shrigley’s model is inanimate, a humorous take on the grueling feats of stillness that models (including Iggy Pop, in Deller’s experiment) are known to undergo in life drawing classes. Her body parts are slightly out of proportion and not quite right—very far from the ideal male figure that originally stood on the dais back when the most lithe and finely proportioned male athletes were preferred as models for a room full of male artists in the academies.
The resulting drawings, rendered by members of the public, vary from earnest attempts to capture the figure’s likeness to Shrigley-esque sketches that feel more like homages to the artist than exercises in life drawing. (To level the playing field, Shrigley did sketch a live model, a mime actor, in a series of strangely touching drawings that appeared in the show as well.)
Deller’s experiment might seem more traditional at first, since the model is indeed alive, and actual art students participated in the class. “It’s actually very traditional, I would argue,” said Deller, a Turner-Prize-winning artist known for orchestrating large-scale projects that often involve collaborations with the public. But his choice of a celebrity model—Iggy Pop—changes the sitter-model dynamic quite considerably.