wed 30/09/2020

Interview With Damien Hirst | reviews, news & interviews

Interview With Damien Hirst

Interview With Damien Hirst

Famous embalmer explains his return to paint

Damien Hirst this week unveiled No Love Lost, Blue Paintings among the Old Masters at the Wallace Collection. Although an exhibition of 25 new paintings by Britain's most talked-about artist might seem a change of direction, Hirst takes a different view. The new works, created between 2006 and 2008, mark the artist's return both to hands-on production and a quieter life at home. Is it the recession? Or is he getting old?

BEN FERGUSON: No Love Lost is a move away from your trademark plastic pieces. What has brought about this shift to painting?

DAMIEN HIRST: I have always had a romance with painting and I’ve always drawn. I like it because children always paint and draw and it’s a topic that everyone likes to talk about. I have got involved with conceptual art but I’ve remained interested in painting. I did a sculptural called contemplating a self power portrait as a pharmacist where I made a box, got into it, started to paint and got out again. I did that in 1996. So in terms of painting I feel I’ve always been getting to that point and backing off.

Surely you're not growing up?

I’ve got three boys now and perhaps eventually you think, "I just want to do this..." As you begin to make sense of your life you want to do less talking. People always talk about painting and they speak for themselves.

So is it a move away from contemporary art?

I love contemporary art, but I guess I just wanted a change from exhibiting in the usual galleries. But I suppose you get older and get more and more requests to do things in museums. Jeff Koons did that great thing in Versailles. And I did my first museum show at the Archaeological Museum in Naples, again amongst old art, in 2004.

What made you choose the Wallace?

I had been working on the paintings for a couple of years, not really wanting to exhibit them anywhere, but then I decided to exhibit them here. I can’t remember who suggested the Wallace, I know Lucien Freud exhibited here and I had gone here a lot with my kids to see the weapons, paintings - kinda cool, right near my office. They said they had two rooms - "Come have a look" – kinda mad but good.

Your paintings have an essence of Francis Bacon in them. Was he an inspiration to you during the production process?

He is brilliant. I love Bacon. I also love Goya, I love Zutin, De Kooning, all the same kind of painters who have a messy go-for-it style. I love the quote, “Your reach has to outweigh your grasp." I think their paintings show that. If you look at someone like Freud you can see how great he is with every brushstroke. But Bacon is grasping for something in the shadows. I just started off with the skull, keeping the colours dark - black then the blue. The blue is really from those 1953 Bacon paintings. I nicked that.

I hear you could almost host a Bacon retrospective of your own.

I have got a few early works: 1933 - The Crucifixion, a 1942 and a 1953. And I have a blue one of a man in the sea in my office. It is amazing in itself to be able to buy a Bacon painting.

Do you think there is something about painting that, as an artist, will immortalise you like the masters you cited earlier?

On a humorous level it is a bit like being in U2 and not selling T-shirts. I have friends who make sculptures and I always encourage them to do paintings.  Paintings are great, I like how by turning 90 degrees it becomes a line and disappears. There is a certain amount of illusion in painting. I am very pleased with the painting with the roses and butterflies, I think something happens to the image that gels it all together.

Has the fact crossed your mind that paintings are easier to sell than dead sharks?

I am more nervous about these because dead sharks tend to sell themselves. I suppose it’s great to do paintings as a way to raise money.

Who owns these works?

A Ukrainian collector Victor Pinchuk has some of the works in the show. Haven’t decided how much they’re going to cost but the rest will go on sale next week at Whte Cube.

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