Damien Hirst: interview
'No Limits' by Sarah Lucas
He shows me a model of White Cube, Mason’s Yard hung with tiny reproductions for a show next June of paintings of his partner Maia giving birth to their third son, Cyrus by cesarean section. Based on photographs, they’re currently being painted by a team of people some of whom specialise in backgrounds, others in flesh, others in the out-of-focus parts. Aren’t they churning out anonymous, corporate pictures? ‘Well, they’re all painted in a group way and then I do some hands-on stuff at the end – adding washes. I want them to be like newspaper pictures, factual and non-expressive. I want you to believe in them in the same way as you believe in the “Medicine Cabinets” (pills arranged on shelves as in a chemist’s shop). I don’t want them to look clever, but to convince you. I’m using painting to produce something that looks like a bad quality reproduction – the painting process is hidden as it is with ‘Hymn’ (a giant figure based on an anatomical toy) which looks like plastic, but is bronze underneath.’
As well as the farm in Devon where he lives with Maia and their three children, Hirst has three studios in Gloucestershire, a houseboat in Chelsea (where he spends about three days a week), a restaurant in Ilfracombe, a house in Mexico, five buildings in Lambeth, and Toddington Manor, a stately home in the Cotswolds which he is transforming into a gallery to house his collection. It will open in about ten years’ time. Hirst has always done swaps and bought work from friends and, when Saatchi began selling his YBA holdings, he bought back 12 of his own pieces and all of Sarah Lucas’s work. Recently, though, he’s started buying really big names; Francis Bacon’s ‘Figure at the Base of a Crucifixion’ came from the mother of a friend, but Warhol’s ‘Little Electric Chair’ was bought at auction. ‘I send someone else to bid,’ says Hirst. ‘I can’t deal with auctions, they’re too intense and I don’t go for something unless I’ll get it.’
'Pieta' by Angus Fairhurst
Opening this week at the Serpentine is a selection of work from his collection. The theme of ‘In the Darkest Hour There May Be Light’ is one of Hirst’s favourite topics – death. ‘I like titles that cover everything,’ he says, ‘dark, light and everything in between – the light of God, the light of humour, making light of a dark situation. We all exist in between life and death and all art fits that, or all the art I’ve collected.’ He shows me another model, and, knowing the haphazard way he used to function, I’m amazed by all this forward planning. Isn’t he becoming like an institution? ‘You get more done this way,’ he replies, ‘and I had to think it out; but you’ve got to remain flexible – to leave room for manoeuvre.’ Warhol’s ‘Little Electric Chair’ will hang near the Francis Bacon and his ‘Five Deaths’ beside Richard Prince’s painting of ‘Five Jokes’; there’ll be a coffin outlined in neon by Lucas plus work by friends like Gavin Turk, Angela Bullock and Angus Fairhurst.
Hirst is planning a lot more exhibitions. The block in Lambeth is being converted by Caruso St John (who did the Gagosian gallery) into a studio, restaurant and 17,000 square foot gallery where Hirst will show friends, unknown artists and other people’s exhibitions. Why does he want another gallery besides Toddington? Could he be reliving ‘Freeze’, or does he intend to bypass his dealers, Jay Jopling and Larry Gagosian, by doing his own marketing? ‘I wouldn’t leave the galleries,’ says Hirst. ‘I’ll show my own work but I won’t sell the stuff. Selling is a lot of donkey work and I leave it to people who are good at it.’
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