Review: David Shillinglaw

‘Relax. The Universe is Expanding’ by David Shillinglaw


I recently received in the post a copy of ‘Relax. The Universe is Expanding’ by David Shillinglaw. This book, published by Nowhere North contains a series of short essays to accompany David’s works and an extract of an interview I did with David about his work which later led to a collaboration in the form of a book that we published at Unseen Sketchbooks. The title of this small format book, ‘Everything starts is a sketchbook’ looked at how David uses the sketchbook as a process of exploring, recording and attempting to understand the world, or worlds, we inhabit.

I met David (virtually) through lock down and I’m fascinated by some of the themes of his work. In the introduction to this new book David talks about his work trying to explore the many ‘spaces’ we inhabit. From the physical space of a garden or train to the expanding terrain of cyber-space or even outer-space. Our lives have become a fractured schism – a duality of experiences, online, in person, on Zoom, in Microsoft Teams etc. I think we are feeling the pressure of this.

‘I am lost somewhere between all of these spaces, never quite arriving in one or able to disconnect from another’ – David Shillinglaw

Though his work David is trying to makes sense of some of these experiences. Citing the caveman scratching constellations on the muddy wall, David too is making marks to try and make sense of the world. Constructing maps and patchworks of ideas to try and ‘navigate the impossible terrain’.

In her essay, ‘A Delicate Equilibrium’, Emily Steer further explores this notion of conflicting spaces. Placing David’s works in ‘messy’ place where the conflictions and contradictions of the human condition can be explored. Another theme Emily explores is the switch from macro to micro, from looking at the (expanding) world one moment, and then returning to more figurative, more grounded portraits and observations. The human condition leads us to seek clarity, to seek ownership and to have explanations for what surrounds us. Emily nicely points out that this isn’t possible.

‘David’s tangled, joyful works suggest that it is impossible to fully understand or claim ownership over anything in the life’ – Emily Steer

The book concludes with a look at the works David produced with epigrams and slogans applied to discarded mattresses. ‘Mattresses slept on. Wept on. Sexed on. Thrown out. Passed by on the street’. Andrew Spyrou’s text ‘Nothing Really Mattress’ describes this process of re-appropriation.

‘Through this practice, he turns objects we might otherwise disregard into sites of un-ignorable significance…’ – Andrew Spyrou

The mattresses all have stories to tell, and as Andrew observes, they are all the same, but different. And in a way that is what David’s work reminds us of. We are all the same, but different. We are all unique, but somehow all inter-twined in this expanding universe that none of us can really make sense of.

Getting the book in the post, out of the blue was heartening. What a great thing to do, to be able to make someone’s day better. As Andrew Spyrou concludes:

‘Hug your friends more. Stop buying, start making. Think of others. Love. Smile and you will find happiness’

Book design by Joanna Dudderidge

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