Shrigley was born 17 September 1968 in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He moved with his parents and sister to Oadby, Leicestershire when he was two years old. He took the Art and Design Foundation course at the Leicester Polytechnic in 1987, and then studied environmental art at the Glasgow School of Art from 1988 to 1991. Talking about his final degree show, Shrigley later told UK daily newspaper The Guardian's Becky Barnicoat, "I thought my degree show was brilliant, but the people who were marking it didn't. I got a 2:2. They didn't appreciate my genius.[…] I didn't sell anything at the show – it was 1991, before the YBAs. There wasn't a precedent for people selling work that wasn't figurative painting".
As well as authoring several books, he directed the video for Blur's "Good Song" and also for Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "Agnes, Queen of Sorrow". In 2005 designed a London Underground leaflet cover. Since 2005, he has contributed a cartoon for The Guardian's Weekend magazine every Saturday. Other projects have included the album Worried Noodles (Tom Lab, 2007) where musicians interpret his writings as lyrics, including collaborations by David Byrne, Hot Chip, and Franz Ferdinand.
Shrigley co-directed a film with director Chris Shepherd called Who I Am And What I Want, based on Shrigley's book of the same title, with Kevin Eldon voicing its main character, Pete. Shrigley also produced a series of drawings and T-shirt designs for the 2006 Triptych festival, a Scottish music festival lasting for three to four days in three cities. He also designed twelve different covers for Deerhoof's 2007 record, Friend Opportunity. In the same year he also designed the title sequence for the film Hallam Foe, as well as the drawings and the writing in Hallam's on-screen diaries.
In 2014, Jonathan Jones reviewed Shrigley's work Brass Tooth, writing, "David Shrigley must have had a big, toothy grin when he created multiple editions of his sculpture Brass Tooth, which goes on sale for £1,200 a pop at the London art fair this week. It is a cast of a single tooth – including the roots – and is typical of Shrigley's sly, subversive, humorous art in how it brings a modern art cliche crashing down to Earth".
In 2015, he designed "Kingsley", a mascot for Scottish football team Partick Thistle as part of a sponsorship deal. The mascot's design was the object of some amusement, with Scottish BuzzFeed reporter Jamie Ross describing it as "based on every nightmare I had as a child."
Shrigley's sculpture Really Good was installed on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth in September 2016.
Recent notable solo exhibitions include Animate, The Turku art Museum, Finland (2011); Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, Glasgow, Scotland (2010); New Powers, Kunsthalle Mainz, Germany (2009); David Shrigley, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany (2008); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2008); Everything Must Have a Name, Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden (2007) and David Shrigley, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland (2006).
Shrigley is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Anton Kern Gallery, New York.
Jason Mraz took the name of his album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. from a work by Shrigley.
In January 2016, Shrigley's work was part of a British Council-organised touring exhibition. Previewing the touring David Shrigley: Lose Your Mind exhibition before it opened in Guadalajara, Mexico, BBC Arts said: "Best known for his crudely composed and mordantly humorous cartoons, David Shrigley is a highly popular British artist […] Featuring works as diverse as cartoonish ceramic boots, doodle-like drawings and a headless, stuffed ostrich, the exhibition highlights Shrigley's lively, irreverent imagination in full flow". In the same month, he contributed to the Liverpool Provocations event in Liverpool’s city centre.
In 2006, Shrigley's first spoken-word album Shrigley Forced to Speak With Others was released by Azuli Records. In October 2007, Tomlab released Worried Noodles, a double-CD of artists including David Byrne, Islands, Liars, Grizzly Bear, Mount Eerie, R. Stevie Moore and Final Fantasy putting Shrigley's 2005 book of the same name to music. Moore went on to record an entire album of new songs set to Shrigley's Worried Noodles lyrics called Shrigley Field.
His spoken-word readings are used on the Late Night Tales: David Shrigley series of recordings, with a track from Shrigley closing each album.
Shrigley was nominated for the 2013 Turner Prize. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Leicester's De Montfort University at a ceremony on 17 July 2014.