This typically dysfunctional Q & A forms the introduction to artist David Shrigley’s first attempt at spinning his whimsical sentences and absurd drawings into a structured narrative. How Are You Feeling: at the Inside of the Centre of the Human Brain’s Mind takes us on a journey of sorts, through the various senses and faculties controlled by the brain, all the while invoking the indefinable Inside of its centre, where one might encounter “The reasons why human beings behave in such peculiar, delightful and unpleasant ways”.
Shrigley has become one of the leading lights of contemporary British Art. His crude stick figures, half-profound/half-ludicrous insights, and perplexing hand-written sentences make his work as instantly recognisable as that of any artist working in Britain today. Fans of his work will certainly not be disappointed by the content of this book; Shrigley adheres to a strict, almost obstinate style, which can be described as irreverent, crude and wilfully childlike. As we turn the pages, we are met with a litany of odd, seemingly incongruent images: a black stick figure amongst a series of lines becomes a giant waterfall which will “wash off all the filth that has accumulated”; a bulging teardrop with a scribble at the top represents a “huge snake, kept in a sack”; and a yellow crescent with a face and legs is, of course, a walking banana. These doodled aberrations can be stark and whimsical and at times miss the spot entirely, but thrust together as they are, they encapsulate the book’s subject: the uniqueness of a freewheeling mind.
The structure of the book amusingly parodies the “self-help” genre. In chapter 1, for example, we “Identify the problem” by first recognising which personality bracket we fall into: “Withdrawn” or “Confrontational”? “Nudist” or “Policeman”? “Talkative” or “Corpse”? By chapter 6 we are ready to “Learn new behaviour”: like dogs we can “Do tricks” but, it should be noted, unlike the dogs “We can’t smell bombs”. This section ends with a hilariously deadpan serenity prayer: “Dear God, please forgive my proclivity towards excessive ornamentation. Please also forgive me for masturbating and fornicating and wishing people dead. Amen.”
Shrigley is at his best when you feel as if his disjointed thoughts have jumped straight from his mind to the page with little distillation. A liquefying giant thanking tiny figures for helping to prop his face up “while it was melting” is funnier than a figure callously asking to take the photo of a starving child; Shrigley’s mischievous appeal is his reluctance to offer any real point to his drawings; it might be disappointing when you can decipher what he is “getting at”. These missteps are few and far between; for the most part we are kept thoroughly and entertainingly in the dark.
The real question is whether this book adds anything to Shrigley’s work that we wouldn’t find with a simple Internet search? While it is true that most of the drawings here would be perfectly at home in a gallery, there is something about viewing Shrigley’s mind at work in such a condensed manner that delights even more. Read this book enough and you might start doodling away in your spare time, frustrated when your thoughts make too much sense, or your drawing of a banana with legs looks a bit too banana-like. Does this book work then?Yes. Is it guaranteed to work? No… but that’s the point, isn’t it?