‘My Whole Career Is About the Romance of Painting’: Damien Hirst on Infinite Spots, Studio Assistants and Aging

‘Getting other people to make decisions is a good way to not make decisions’

“Now, to see us, some of us look really fucking old. I went around to see Louise Bourgeois’s house just before she died. I remember looking at the light switches and the wiring. And the crumbling paintwork. And I was suddenly thinking, ‘We are getting older! We don’t want brand-new pristine hygienic surfaces everywhere.’ Because you want what’s happening to your body to be happening around you. You feel more comfortable. Maybe. In some way. But then you see old collectors living in sterile houses. And you do! Their bodies are letting the whole thing down.

“You feel more comfortable, don’t you, if you are aware that it’s not just you who is decaying, it’s your surroundings decaying as well. So you are part of the whole thing. It’s like the old leather jacket, isn’t it? It’s a nice thing, an old leather jacket.”


Damien Hirst has never been short of critics. Some, with an incorrigible distaste for Conceptual art, are unmoved by his vitrine pieces, and his stuffed shark has replaced the abstracted Picassoid face (see under Demoiselles) as the nose in the Anti-Modernist jokebook. But it was Mr. Hirst’s use of assistants to make work in quantity, as with the Spots series, that fired up more serious critiques, often from equally powerful artist peers.

You can argue both sides but it is undeniable that a great many good artists have always used assistants. The joke about Donald Judd used to be that you could tell the pieces he had done himself because they were so badly made. In 1986 Jeff Koons told the Journal of Contemporary Art, “I’m basically the idea person. I’m not physically involved in the production. I don’t have the necessary abilities.”

As to the critiques of the Spots show, many have been interesting in a rather specific way. Here are just two.

“The project of creating unlimited paintings, executed by assistants, all derived from the same formula, seems to reflect the years of the dotcom boom and subprime mortgages all too accurately,” wrote Martin Gayford on Bloomberg.

In Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Richard Dorment noted that “they are perfect corporate artworks, ideal for banks, board rooms, and modernist collectors who have no particular knowledge or taste.”

These are fine art writers both, but their attempts to load the work with sociopolitical baggage strike me as forced and remind me strongly of the kill-the-Art-Stars energies formerly directed against Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons.

In Mr. Schnabel’s case it was because he was indeed seen as an embodiment of the ’80s Art Star. Mr. Koons was serially (and foolishly) accused of cynicism and commodification. And Damien Hirst? In a period when the art world is not just a delivery system for luxury goods but a part of the Entertainment Culture, he has made marketing very much a part of his practice. And why not?

Anyway, he’s not stopping. “I keep getting this thing about painting your own work,” he said. “You don’t paint the spots and all that shit. I’m doing this other stuff where I’ve got two guys in Italy carving a sculpture out of granite. So I’ve made a plaster, working in the foundry, of two figures. One of them is based on Michelangelo’s Slaves, the other on the sculpture of a female slave by Hiram Powers.

“These two guys are amazing granite carvers and they are working day in, day out. And it’s like two and a half years to make one. And it’s an edition of three. So that’s 10 years, with an A.P.”—Artist’s Proof. “If wanted to do it I would have to go and study for 10 years, five years. To learn how to carve granite. Fucking hell! If these guys live to be 70 they are going to be able to make 12 of these. And that’s their whole careers. And that’s your whole life gone. So you have to get people.”