Hirst in a still from the movie The Future of Art
|Born||Damien Steven Brennan
7 June 1965
|Education||Jacob Kramer College, Leeds; Goldsmiths|
|Known for||Conceptual art, installation art, painting|
|Notable work||The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, For the Love of God|
|Movement||Young British Artists|
It's good to have a title that's not just one word. If you're gonna title it, you might as well try and say something.
The difference between art about death and actual death is that one's a celebration and the other's a dull fact.
I think art is good at looking back and looking forward. I don't think art is good at looking head-on. At the end of the day, people are more important than paintings.
I think I've always been afraid of painting, really. Right from the beginning. All my paintings are about painting without a painter. Like a kind of mechanical form of painting.
I remember when you used to have your profession on your passport and I always thought that being a painter was the best one to be, because my heroes were Goya and Francis Bacon.
I think money is important for everyone, because the lack of it is so painful.
But I think it's more that when you're young, you're invincible, you're immortal – or at least you think you are. The possibilities are limitless, you're inventing the future. Then you get older and suddenly you have a history. It's fixed. You can't change anything. I find that a bit disturbing, to be honest.
When I used to do abstract paintings at school, like everyone else, the tutor said these would make great curtains. I would always neglect the formal stuff that was going on by using colour, because colour kind of came naturally to me.
People always say that my work is sensational or shocking but there are truly shocking things you could do, and my sculptures don't go anywhere near that.
I've spent a long time avoiding painting and dealing with it from a distance. But as I get older, I'm more comfortable with it.
'Painting like a child' isn't a negative for me… it's something only great artists can really achieve. The childlike quality of some of Picasso's drawings is precisely what makes them so masterful and extraordinary; the ability to express complete visions, feelings and portraits through a continuous line.
But I'm more interested in why people are frightened by Jaws and why Jaws was such a hit than saying Spielberg's my main influence.
Since I was a child, death is definitely something that I think about every day. But I think that everybody does. You try and avoid it, but it's such a big thing that you can't.
Picasso, Michelangelo, possibly, might be verging on genius, but I don't think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius.
I was taught to confront things you can't avoid. Death is one of those things. To live in a society where you're trying not to look at it is stupid because looking at death throws us back into life with more vigour and energy. The fact that flowers don't last for ever makes them beautiful.
Even as a kid in drawing class, I had real ambition. I wanted to be the best in the class, but there was always some other feller who was better; so I thought, 'It can't be about being the best, it has to be about the drawing itself, what you do with it.' That's kind of stuck with me.
Great art – or good art – is when you look at it, experience it and it stays in your mind. I don't think conceptual art and traditional art are all that different.
Museums are for dead artists. I'd never show my work in the Tate. You'd never get me in that place.
I gave up painting by 16. I secretly thought I would have been Rembrandt by then.
I've been asked to do a retrospective since I was about 28 and I always thought that was a bit odd. It's great to look forward as an artist because in the future the possibilities are infinite; you look back and it's all fixed so it's a scary thing.
It'd be nice to make lots of money but it's quite difficult, because every time I make lots of money I make a bigger piece that costs lots of money.
Painting is so poetic, while sculpture is more logical and scientific and makes you worry about gravity.
The idea of going on tour for the rest of my life with old works is not that exciting. As an artist I definitely think the work in future is going to be better than the work in the past, otherwise why do it?
For me, art is always a kind of theater. When I started the spot paintings, I made them as an endless series. But I was never serious about it being an endless series. It was just an implied endless series. The theater means you just have to make it look good for that moment in the spotlight.
I realised that you couldn't use the tools of yesterday to communicate today's world. Basically, that was the big light that went on in my head.
That's the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice, you can make great paintings.
Kids are naturally gifted at art from a very young age. The problem is when they get older and become self-conscious. The process should always be fun, though.
It's amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw.
I always look at money not as a motivating factor but as an element in the composition. You can't ignore it, but you've got to be very careful that it's not motivating you.
I always feel a bit trapped when a painting goes for millions of pounds and only one person can have it. If you can have that as well as a poster on every student's wall, then you're in a very enviable position. I'd like to do a Damien Hirst for £500 at some point.
Most people live in the city and go to the country at the weekend, and that's posh and aristocratic, but actually to live in the country and come to London when you can't take it any more is different.
There was a point I could have just churned out the spot and spin paintings for ever and laughed all the way to the bank.
So smoking is the perfect way to commit suicide without actually dying. I smoke because it's bad, it's really simple.
But whenever I look at the question of how to live, the answer's always staring me in the face. I'm already doing it.
A lot of people thought I wasn't doing anything because I was spending a lot of time socialising and going out, but I've always managed to get work actually done.
In an artwork you're always looking for artistic decisions, so an ashtray is perfect. An ashtray has got life and death.
People don't like contemporary art, but all art starts life as contemporary – I can't really see a difference.
But it's like the horror of being in a studio with a blank canvas. I used to always run out of ideas because there are so many possibilities and I would just think, well what am I going to do now!
I'm 43. I'm not ready to sit down in a chair with my name on it yet.
You'd never look at a Rembrandt and say, 'That's just wood and canvas and paint – how much?!' It's all about how many people want it. It works on a pair of jeans as well – they're just material and stitching, and as soon as you walk out of the shop, they're worth nothing.
I have always been aware that you have to get people listening before you can change their minds. Any artist's big fear is being ignored, so if you get debate, that's great.
It's a great advantage to be able to play people off against each other, isn't it? You go to Christie's and get a quote on something. And then you go to Phillips' and you tell them what Christie's has given you. I like auctions for artists.
The goal in life is to be solid, whereas the way that life works is totally fluid, so you can never actually achieve that goal.
I always feel like the art's there and I just see it, so it's not really a lot of work.
But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you're doing that anyway. However you intellectualise it, you still just live.
Making art, good art, is always a struggle. It can make you happy when you pull it off. There's no better feeling. It's beauteous. But it's always about hard work and inspiration and sweat and good ideas.
Whenever I've been well-known or hitting the press, I've always had to get my credit card out to prove I'm Damien Hirst.
I've had laser eye surgery and I don't wear glasses any more, so people just go, 'You're not Damien Hirst.' I don't get recognized on the street.
No, I don't believe in genius. I believe in freedom. I think anyone can do it. Anyone can be like Rembrandt.
I used to watch 'Top of the Pops' when I was a kid and say 'Yeah!' or 'Boo!' at every single song. So there was nothing in the middle. You brutally put it on one side or another.
The spot paintings and spin paintings were trying to find mechanical ways to make paintings.
I had a passport where I wrote 'artist' under 'occupation' and I remember thinking, 'That's it, it's proved!'
When it comes to the British monarchy, I prefer to be seduced by an image than presented with a real person. It's kind of a Warhol thing.
The idea of being a painter, I've always thought, is better than being an artist or a sculptor.
My Mum brought me up to believe that if you look after the pennies then the pounds look after themselves, and I could never do it.
A painting probably is the most shocking increase in value, from what it costs to make to what you sell it for.
I was brought up Catholic, and I felt the power of art from a very young age – seeing the brutality of all those images of flayed apostles and tortured saints was a pretty strong introduction.
I used to believe I was going to live forever. And then you suddenly become aware that you're not.