Damien Hirst is widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful contemporary artists, who has created some of the most seminal works in recent art history.
Emerging from the Young British Artist movement that originated in London in the late 1980s, he was part of a group which became renowned for their audacious and often shocking works, receiving international acclaim and succeeding in revitalising the
British art scene.
Interestingly, his recent works such as the ‘Miraculous Journey’, a group of 14 bronze sculptures, that was recently unveiled in Doha, are being interpreted in religious terms, and some say it depicted the miracle of birth as explained in the holy books.
When asked whether he felt comfortable with such religious interpretations of his artwork, Hirst told Gulf Times that as an artist he strived very hard to work on many levels.
He said visual art was about people having a response and he intended people to get religious feelings from images of conception and babies being born.
“Art is universal, so it should be able to move across religions … I look for universal triggers. I want to tap into people across cultures. We are all afraid of the dark, we all think butterflies are beautiful, we’re all frightened of sharks. I’m always looking for things like that. I think art should be able to cross social boundaries. Be able to exist in different cultures. Especially in the world we live today, where so much information is passing around,” he said.
The British artist said that he was getting inspired by Islamic art during his stay in Doha. “While I’ve been here I have been looking at Islamic patterns and how one (could) use that with (my) butterflies (artwork). So, I think there’s also a lot of cross cultures that happens, which is unavoidable and healthy,” he said.
Hirst has remained dedicated to exploring the complex relationship between art, love, life and death.
Sometimes this depiction of this complex reality can be absolutely brutal and disturbing. For example, in his installation titled ‘A Thousand Years’ and ‘A Hundred Years,’ at the Relics exhibition, live maggots and flies feed on a severed head of a cow as they try to find their path from one glass cage to another, while at the same time being attracted to a neon light that kills the insects.
He said he tries to look at the positives and negatives in the recurrent theme of cycle of life and death in his artwork.
“With the ‘A Thousand Years,’ it was quite a dark period in my life. But it’s like further looking at things. Like further back you stand, the darker the things become. There’s a book by Thomas Hobbes called Leviathan. I was reading his quotes and it came from that really. He gives a very bleak view of life … Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” he said.
However, the British artist in the same breath also says that “I think the nature of art is optimistic.”
“Even though like I use a skull, it’s not because I’m depressed. Everything in artwork is some sort of celebration, even if it’s a celebration of death.”
About death, he said that a lot of people don’t like to think about it, even though it was a normal part of life. “There’s a great quote by Sameul Beckett where he says death doesn’t require us to make a day free. I think that’s quite the horror of death really. You can’t put everything in your dairy and do everything you want to do, it’s unexpected because it happens out of nowhere.”
He said that when he was young, he was taught to confront things that you couldn’t avoid and art was his way of confronting it.
Later, he joked about how his family reacted to the dark side of his art. “My mother says to me I love your butterflies but why do you have to do that horrible stuff,” he said.
There are some artworks by Hirst such as the Mother and Child (Divided), a cow and calf have been literally split into halves in the middle. When asked whether he himself did the grueling work or asked his assistants to do it, he said “With that particular piece, yeah I did it myself. (But) as I’ve managed to make money, I get other people to do the nasty work,” he laughed. “It wasn’t enjoyable work so as soon as I can afford, I pay other people to do it. So I’m more like a director now. I go, cut it there please!”
He said that art was a great way to spread the word and move the world around, and to understand other cultures. “In a way, as an artist, you make art for people who haven’t been born yet. If you’re lucky, this work will be around after you die. It’s quite a strange pursuit,” he said.
Hirst said that he himself had chosen the title of his Doha exhibition as ‘Relics.’ “A lot of my ideas come from the ideas of the past, what is new and how it is presented today. (I) thought it was a good idea to name it. (It’s an) idea of meaningful objects from the past but also kind of ironic as well because they’re not old,” he said,
He said although he was more than happy with what he was able to bring to Doha, he said that there was this one exhibition that included live butterflies that he was unable to bring and hoped to show it here in the future. “But on the whole, I’ve got everything that I could wish for. It’s a like a dream come true,” he said.
He said that he hoped the people would still remember his exhibition a week or a year after it ends.
“The worst thing as an artist is when people would say, oh you remember that exhibition with a shark, what was that guy called? So, it would be nice if they remember my name as well,” he said.