DAMIEN HIRST: ART IS LIKE HOLDING A MIRROR UP TO LIFE
Rose Mary Salum: When one looks at your work, one experiences an encounter with finitude. It seems to me that you explore the uncertainty which is at the core of human experience. Death, life, all of these things a human experiences and cannot avoid.
Damien Hirst: I think that’s what we all address, from my point of view. As an artist I always have confronted themes I can´t avoid and death is a big one, isn´t it?
RMS: How have you and your work changed since your last exhibit in Mexico, The Death of God, Towards a Better Understanding of Life without God aboard The Ship of Fools.
DH: I don´t really think about change that much. I have the same ideas, the same work. For me, what´s exciting about any kind of art is the map of the person´s life. If you look at the artists you admire, the work, they did here, the work they did there has to fit you as a human being. It has to make sense to you. I just feel a lot better working this way and I don´t know where it´ll go. Change is the part I do from the very beginning. It still is.
RMS: You’ve returned to the canvas (and painted even with your hands). Why did you decide to move to the canvas? And how are you dealing with the negative reviews it had received?
DH: Since the very beginning I’ve thought paintings are such an illusion. I´m mean, they are so “defy gravity.” Even an illusion of space in a painting is such bullshit. If you’re searching for a truth and you’re starting with an illusion it always seems enigmatic. Painting has always been magical because of that. The way I paint is very old fashioned. I even thought I was avoiding something I needed to confront, but I’m not quite sure. I got to the point where there is so much stuff surrounding me that, I though it would be a good escape. It seemed like a good idea to work with the same ideas, but on a smaller surface. It’s a great way to reflect.
With respect to the negative reviews, I´ve always had negative reviews. I remember a guy with a bag of chips that was looking at my work saying “This is not art.” I supposed I got much criticism in London for showing these pictures in the Wallace Collection. I guess a lot of people didn´t like the idea of putting my art next to the classic works. I supposed it’s too early to say what a good painting is. So much has been done in painting, that you don’t really need to be a very skilled crafts person to produce a painting.
RMS: Do you agree with Heidegger when he says art unveils the truth?
DH: Yes, it helps to unveil the truth. Absolutely. That’s the greatest thing I like about art. I like John Ruskin´s quote when he says “art is like holding a mirror up to life.” I think we need art probably more than we need God, whoever she or he might be.
RMS: What came first, art or money?
DH: The goal is art. You try to achieve art, to move people. You don´t use it to make you rich. The moment the goal becomes the money, you fail. The first thing it needs to happen when you are an artist is that you have to believe in yourself. By believing in yourself, there´s a huge chance other people will also believe in it. If you stop believing, art fails. You might be able to fool people, but that´s not what art is about, it´s about belief. You don´t want to go there, because that´s wrong.
RMS: What do you like about Francis Bacon the most? He has been a huge influence in your work.
DH: I just like the fact that he was doing figurative paintings when it was really unfashionable. He never believed in fashion. When I saw Bacon, I said “Fuck, he has done it all.” And then, I found sculpture and thought it would be easier to explore that medium. I’ve always been interested in painting though. Bacon has managed to achieve things which were far beyond his ability. Just because he believed. So the answer to your question is belief, probably.
Rose Mary Salum is the founder and director of Literal, Latin American Voices. She´s the author of Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013) among other titles.