With his hair dyed sky blue, a white shirt and pink pants, Damien Hirst (Bristol, 56 years old) himself looks like a cherry tree in spring. Let him present himself like this at the inauguration of Cherry Blossoms (cherry blossoms), his exhibition at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, says a lot about him: here is a man willing to honor his own creation. The exhibition will run until January 2, 2022. Afterwards, the 30 paintings that make it up will travel to different private collections. Everything was sold out long before it was shown to the public, as he casually explains, with that working-class British accent that he has kept intact since his childhood in Leeds: “We had to postpone because of the pandemic, and at this time there were people who saw the paintings and bought them. During confinement, Larry Ellison [fundador de la compañía tecnológica Oracle] He came to my studio and he alone took about seven paintings ”.
Cherry Blossoms It is made up of 107 works, of which Hervé Chandès, general director of the Cartier Foundation, made a selection. Its name describes it without irony: they are different variations on the idea of the flowering cherry tree painted by means of circular spots of color that refer to what Van Gogh, Bonnard or the pointillists did a century and a half ago.
There will be those who see a turn towards the conventional for an artist who, in the early nineties, just out of the Goldsmiths College art school, already generated amazement and horror in equal parts with pieces like A thousand years –A decomposing cow’s head eaten by flies and worms– or The physical impossibility of death in the mind of something living –The corpse of a shark preserved in a formaldehyde tank–, which placed him in the forefront of that revolutionary generation called Young British Artists. But immediately after that he went on to sign his colorful series of abstract paintings Visual Candy, a clear precedent of the cherry trees that concern us.
“I would love to see an exhibition where they put these paintings next to the shark. They would marry very well. The components of these animals are disturbing, but there is also calm and beauty in them. With my art I have never wanted to alienate people or generate controversy, but rather doubts. I want you to doubt the world you live in and reconfigure it, and for that to change the way you live ”.
In fact, the corpses of animals and flowers share the same theme, death, present in all his work. Talking about death is a way of talking about life, as the Baroque artists understood, and as Hirst has always done: “Cherry trees give the sensation of fleeting beauty. I have one in the garden at my house and every year I watch it bloom for a few weeks. At that time life and death come together. Of all the flowers, the cherry tree is the craziest, the wildest. Perhaps what he wants when painting it is that that moment last forever ”.
Is that why you return to painting even though you are recognized more as a conceptual artist? Neither a sculptor nor an artist sounds as good as a painter. I have always wanted to be, but I have been afraid of not being able to paint, of not being able to create those images in which I believed. In addition, the idea that paintings are more valuable than the cost of their components has been assumed, which is not the case with sculpture. When I made For the love of God [una calavera de platino y diamantes, célebre por su millonario coste de producción] everyone asked me how much the diamonds or the metal cost, and they said “oh, it’s charging more expensive than the diamonds that compose it are worth!”. But you don’t do that with paint. La Mona Lisa It must cost like 15 pounds to make, but it is accepted that it is worth billions, that it is priceless. I do not know why.
And what about those who say their work is overrated? That I have also been underrated! There are people who bought my work in the nineties and made money with it, but others who bought ten years later lost it. I know a guy who was buying and selling my work and earning a lot with it, and suddenly the crisis came and he said: “Oh, God, I bought a painting that I can’t get rid of now! What can I do with him?”. I replied: “Hang it on the wall!”
Hirst has been accused of mounting market-driven deals, such as that 2017 show at the palaces Venetians by François Pinault presided over by an 18-meter colossus cast in bronze that was destroyed by critics. He admits that the monetary issue is not alien to him: “I get nervous if my works don’t give money. At first I was selling them to friends for £ 50 and I knew they were doing me a favor. Now that there are people willing to pay so much for them, I feel lucky. But art is more important than money ”.
They say he is the most expensive artist. Or the richest. There are more expensive painters, and definitely richer ones too. My name is always associated with the one of. One of the most expensive. One of the richest. Dead painters make more money!
The Cartier Foundation has produced a documentary where he appears painting with his clothes sprinkled with colors, in a performative register that seems to link him to a certain lineage that goes from the Impressionists to the action painting of Jackson Pollock. The message is that these paintings have not only come from the author’s head, but also from his own hands. What exudes a somewhat old-fashioned romanticism that, against all odds, Hirst himself does not hesitate to dismantle. Mark Cherry Blossoms the future of your career? “No,” he answers sharply. “When I do one thing, immediately afterwards I have to do the opposite. Now I have started painting with robots, programming them with a computer. I love when they tell me ‘you don’t paint, your assistants paint’, I answer them: ‘My assistants don’t, they paint my robots! ”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.