‘I Used to Jump on Tables’: Anthony Haden-Guest Talks With Damien Hirst About Sobriety, His New Work and, Yes, Spot Paintings

'When I first painted them it was this brand new thing and I felt immortal in a way. The time was right. We were... changing the rules, nothing could stop us. Now to see us, some of us look really fucking old. Worn.'

AHG: Frightening thought really.

DH: Yes! It’s fucking mad. The human eye might not be able to see them. If you go to the microscopic ones you can spend the rest of your life working on something that’s a millimeter across. Fucking nuts! When I’ve done those, I can’t see myself doing any more. I want them to be an endless series, but I want them to be sort of infinite. An endless series is two things. It makes them infinite but it also connects them with my life. I want to imply it rather than do it. So I’m torn all of the time.

AHG: You have said the spot paintings are “happy” work. It’s an interesting word, happy. I remember Ed Moses at one of the Art Basels saying there’s no angst any more!

DH: Yeah.

AHG: Do you think there has been a change in the nature of art in that way?

DH: It’s probably to do with age. I think angst is something you get as you get older. It’s the way human beings are. Like de Kooning. Or like The Beatles. A great example. The way they grew up in public, going from short hair to long hair. And you see them very happy. And then angst comes in, and it gets all dark. But I think there’s real angst, isn’t there? And then there’s art. You don’t get angst in art really. In life, angst gets you down. But in art, it’s uplifting, it’s optimistic. Art makes you look at things you can’t look at because they take you down. You never look at a painting and get depressed. You look at a painting and you see dark things and they make you optimistic. That’s the difference between art and life. It’s not real angst. It’s the representation of angst.

AHG: To what extent do you think of the future? To what extent does anybody think of the future of their work these days? You don’t hear of artists willing to starve because they’ll be in a museum one day.

DH: I’ve always been aware of that. It’s a good way of thinking about it. Art lasts for a long time. You are making art for people that haven’t been born yet. You want to make art about the world today. But you want to make art that will stand up 200 years from now. Art is the greatest vehicle for me to look at the past. And realize that the people in the black-and-white movies were actually human. Because they don’t look human in black-and-white movies. But if you look at paintings, you see that these people had urges and weaknesses and strengths.

AHG: In old photographs everything looks different. But on Facebook people look as if they are going to live forever.

DH: But soon people will be looking at three-dimensional images. You’re looking at a flat photograph and you think, what is this monstrosity?

[A sign for David Hockney’s upcoming show at London’s Royal Academy noted that the work was “made by the artist himself.” This had started up yet another media kerfuffle over the fact that Mr. Hirst, like Koons, the late Donald Judd and a myriad others, is reliant on assistants. This was on Mr. Hirst’s mind.]

DH: I keep getting this thing about painting your own work. 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. 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 ten years, with an AP. If I wanted to do it, I would have to go and study for ten years, five years to learn how to carve granite. Fucking hell! If these guys live to be seventy they are going to be able to make twelve of these. And that’s their whole careers. And that’s your whole life gone. So you have to get people.

AHG: Lucas Cranach’s studio was making Lucas Cranachs a hundred years after he died.

DH: Really? I did think about putting Damien Hirst and Sons over the door. And then they can take over. With the art and everything.

AHG: So the Damien Hirst studio will continue producing spot paintings when you’re gone?

DH: I don’t know. There’s two ways of doing it, aren’t there? Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick said every edition needs to be finished. When I die, that’s it! And anything in progress gets stopped. So I quite like the idea of finishing everything. There’s something pretty good about saying the moment you die, that’s it. But they are still making Giacomettis. Is that what you want? There’s something quite good about thinking you can make things after you are dead. I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.