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David Griggs has studios in Sydney and Quezon City, Manila where he has lived and worked on-and-off for four years. He took the photograph on which he based this self-portrait in Manila. At that time, he was working on a series of paintings entitled Blood on the Streets, which explored notions of horror mixed with irony, Catholic identity, and mortality within a third world context.
“I was taking serious issues from socially and politically charged events and turning them into clichés,” he says. “Also, I was about to publish a book, which I had been working on with members of the local Bahala Na Gang: a photographic essay about gang tattoos. So at this time I myself felt like a walking cliché: the white middle class male foreign artist who is welcomed with open arms into the slums of Manila to conceptualise projects, then at the end of the day goes back to an air-con studio. I was a joke within my own art practice so I wanted my identity to be in question not the Bahala Na Gang’s.”
Griggs sometimes suffers from depression and says he was “very much mentally on the edge” when he painted this work, which loosely acknowledges Edward Munch’s 1893 painting The Scream. At the same time, Griggs believes Zoloft Nation has a strong sense of hope, symbolised through the text on his right arm. “The word Atticus (my son’s name) is painted in bold font as Atticus is one reason why I never slip completely over the edge.”
As to the painting’s meaning, Griggs says: “Life is cheap and at the same time life is also sacred so we should all try not to f*** it up and if it means taking a Zoloft pill every day to stay sane, what the hell?”
Born in Sydney in 1975, Griggs has exhibited since 1996 in solo and group shows. He was awarded an Asialink residency in the Philippines for 2005 and again in 2009 and has work in this year’s Jakarta Biennale. He was in Primavera at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2006 while recent solo shows include All I want it peace in the Middle East, a blow-job and free T-shirt at Kaliman Gallery last year and Exchanging Culture for flesh at the AGNSW in 2006. He was an Archibald finalist in 2007.