David Shrigley shares his latest commission and artistic motto: “If you put the hours in then the work makes itself”

The artist likens his creative process to “when a child is learning how to speak,” exploring his series of paintings, neons, sculptures and cave carvings for the Ruinart Carte Blanche residency.

15 April 2020
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4 minute read

I don’t think there are many people who could make me sit through – even enjoy – a six-minute-long brand film for a champagne house, but David Shrigley, it turns out, is one of them. The film documents his residency with the world’s oldest champagne house Ruinart in Reims, France. The residency took place last year, and is part of a programme called Carte Blanche that invites artists to visit and interpret their company in a way they see fit. Peppered with the artist’s dry wit, silliness and honesty, the film and series of artworks Shrigley has produced as a result explores the fascinating production process, as well as bringing the somewhat lofty world of champagne down to earth.

Shrigley says he learned much about the complex process of making champagne, and wanted to make art that addressed that fact. “It is a voyage of discovery,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I had no expectations, other than to learn something.” The artist visited Maison Ruinart, where he spoke to the cellar master and the people involved in many stages of the production, to understand it better. “For me as an outsider, as someone who has drunk quite a bit of champagne over the years and enjoyed it, I have never thought that much about its production or how it was made.”

The results, titled Unconventional Bubbles, include a series of paintings, neons and sculptures, plus carvings in the walls of the crayères – chalk caves where the champagne is aged – where the soft chalk walls are adorned with hundreds of carved images. “I had a couple of days carving reliefs into the walls: a washing machine, some cavemen… they are quite crude. There is a lot of this type of graffiti in the caves, which are vast. It was really interesting adding my contribution to the canvas of carvings already there.”

For the paintings, Shrigley implemented his usual process as a means of documentation. When creating graphic art, he says, he begins with a blank sheet of paper and “my job is to fill that space with whatever comes into my head. Usually, there is nothing in my head when I begin so I often write a list of things to draw: an elephant, a tree stump, a teapot, a nuclear power station etc. I have a motto: ‘If you put the hours in then the work makes itself’. Maybe what I mean by this is that artwork (or a least, my artwork) occurs as a result of a process. That process for me is usually to draw everything on the list. Once those things have been drawn, the story has begun; more words sometimes appear; sometimes just the words on the list; sometimes more pictures; until eventually the page is full and the artwork is finished.”

Shrigley says that when he tells people about this way of making work they are “sometimes impressed, sometimes not,” and the reaction is often that “it seems as if the work comes from nowhere. Having thought about this at some length I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t the case. Art is not the creation of something new but the creation of connections between things that already exist. In this case, the connection between the things on the list and the words used to describe them. But… as soon as you make a statement about what art is or is not, you almost immediately realise an exception to that rule.”


David Shrigley: Unconventional Bubbles for Ruinart Carte Blanche

Where his Ruinart residency was concerned, the words on the list came from visiting the production facilities, meeting people, asking questions and listening carefully to the answers, and drinking champagne. The list included the vines, grapes, soil, bottle, glass, worms, weather, the cellar master… and plenty more. He eventually made 100 drawings based on his research, then added words to help make the aforementioned connections. One of the problems, Shrigley says, with his way of working is “often I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. I say it then try to figure out what it means afterwards. Maybe it is 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. Meaning ferments like wine.”

The paintings, he says, take the viewer on “an enlightening yet playful journey of champagne production,” while looking at the environmental challenges that its makers meet on a daily basis. They also look at champagne on a symbolic level, “like the fact it is a living product made from a plant that grows in the ground. It is subject to the elements, the soil, the sky, the weather, the bugs. There is a certain magic to it, in which the microorganisms that make the bubbles create the critical element of the champagne. I like the idea that it is something from nothing, that it has to be kept in darkness and all these things have to happen in darkness. Then there is the idea that champagne is synonymous with celebration, synonymous with luxury. This association with celebration connects it to the beginning and ending of things: the beginning of a marriage, or the end of a project. I’m interested in trying to find these metaphors, and the poetic aspect within the story of champagne.”

GalleryDavid Shrigley: Unconventional Bubbles for Ruinart Carte Blanche

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David Shrigley: Unconventional Bubbles for Ruinart Carte Blanche

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent the last ten years working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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