British artist David Shillinglaw is renowned for exploring themes around the "conflicted, messy human condition" – our relentless need for control within a disordered and chaotic world. But a new book and exhibition hope to offer some comfort amidst the madness.
'Relax, The Universe is Expanding' is a new series of vibrant paintings, created around a tumultuous system in which natural forms, freely connected words and human features all burst from and are contained within grids, boxes and organised lines.
On show at London's Delphian Gallery from 2 September, the artworks are also presented in a new book of the same title – Shillinglaw's most expansive publication to date. It provides an overview of his joyful, exploratory practice, featuring Shillinglaw's paintings, sketches and sculptures along with texts that have inspired him, to offer insights into how he navigates his own chaos and tries to make sense of life on Earth.
"The universe is expanding, apparently," says Shillinglaw. "To be honest, I don't fully understand what that means. It creates more questions for me than answers. Expanding into what? I get lost thinking about it. All my work is about describing space: the internal space of my mind; the organs and systems under my skin; the physical spaces I inhabit, from rooms to gardens and trains. This stretches out to the internet or cyberspace, the space of a city, a country or continent—the planet as a whole. Perhaps the hardest to comprehend is 'outer space'.
"I find it almost impossible to imagine its dark vastness. I find something compelling about trying to explore these ideas through drawing, painting and collage. Like a caveman scratching a constellation on a muddy wall, I construct maps to navigate impossible terrains."
He adds: "I am lost somewhere between all of these spaces, never quite arriving in one or able to disconnect from another, and that’s ok with me. We all inhabit these places simultaneously. The collisions and overlapping of spaces feed and inform my work: the micro and macro, the physical and psychological, the real and imagined. I am in awe, fuelled by forces of nature, natural phenomena, emergence and entropy, volcanos and tornados, sunlight and water, blood cells and fungus. The universal funk. The cosmic ooze. When it feels daunting or overwhelming, I just tell myself: 'Relax. The universe is expanding'."
David Shillinglaw's 'Relax, The Universe is Expanding' goes on show from 2 September at Delphian Gallery on Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8NA. His book launches the same day. Find out more at davidshillinglaw.co.uk.