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Damien Hirst on art sharks and cash cows

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Damien Hirst on art sharks and cash cows

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He is rich and controversial, provocative and extravagant.

Animals preserved in formaldehyde, skulls decorated with diamonds, the art of Damien Hirst is firmly focussed on death.

As well as the work there is the money..no freezing garret for Hirst, the man who grew up in Leeds has a smart business skull and he has used it.

Euronews met up with Damien Hurst in Kiev, at the Future Generation Art Prize of the Pinchuck Foundation:

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Damien Hirst, welcome and thank you for being with us today. My first question is very straightforward. I’d like to ask you: Does money and success change an artist’s soul?

Damien Hirst, artist

I don’t think so. It’s a lot harder to make good art when, suddenly, you have money. When you don’t have, that forces you to make things in a creative way, like Van Gogh proves. But I think art shouldn’t be afraid of money either. I am lucky because I have a business manager who taught me very early to make sure I wasn’t chasing money with the art. You always have to make sure you chase the art with the money. Remember money is a key, it’s not a goal.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

And how do you do that, chasing art with the money?

Damien Hirst, artist

You know, the ideas come first and the money is just something you use to make things happen. You don’t use the art to get the money, you use the money to make the art.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Your most famous work is “For the love of God”, which is a skull, a real human skull, covered with diamonds.

Damien Hirst, artist

Arte povera (poor art).

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Arte ricca, in this case, rich art. So tell me, is it true that you sold it for 50 million pounds?

Damien Hirst, artist

At the time when we sold it, the person that wanted to buy it didn’t buy it, and we ended up selling. I sold a third of it to a consortium of people.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Because there has been some controversy,some say it’s not true, it wasn’t sold, that you took part in the consortium.

Damien Hirst, artist

Well, I didn’t sell all of it. White Cube, my gallery, own 10%. Then the consortium bought a third and I own the rest. so I sold a third of it.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

So you confirm it was the most expensive work ever sold by a living artist?

Damien Hirst, artist

I don’t know.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

That’s what I read.

Damien Hirst, artist

Really? I don’t really know. it’s definitely up there.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

And why the name – “For the love of God”? Are you a religious person?

Damien Hirst, artist

In England, “for the love of God” has two meanings – it means what it says, that you do something for the love of God, but it’s also an exclamation, like “For the love of God!”, if you do something wrong. Your mother would say that, if you break a plate, your mother would say “for the love of God, why did you do this?”. So it’s iconic and ironic. It has the two meanings.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Death is a recurrent theme in your work. Are you afraid of dying, or is it just a fascination?

Damien Hirst, artist

I’m looking forward to it!

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Really?

Damien Hirst, artist

No! I think everybody is… you know. Samuel Beckett once said a great thing about death, when he said “death doesn’t require us to take a day free”. I love that quote. It’s the unknown… you can never plan or do something, because you never know. But I was taught, especially when I was younger, to face things you can’t avoid. And I think death is definitely one of the things you can’t avoid. Rather than not talk about it, I think you have to face it. Because it must be normal, in some way. I mean nobody likes it!

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

What has the art market become, in these last few years?

Damien Hirst, artist

Well,like all markets, markets change. I think it’s healthier now. Like I said before, as an artist, if everybody is buying everything you make and then selling it, it’s not keeping still, it’s being bought and resold, bought and resold, you make lots of money and then you can start to believe you’re something you’re not, whereas now I think it’s much healthier. As an artist, you don’t want art that’s moving all over the place. The ideal thing is that someone buys it, puts it on that wall and it stays there. I know lots of people, nobody was keeping their paintings in that market, in that craziness. People were buying paintings to sell. Everybody became an art dealer and everyone was selling, so it became, I mean, when I do dot paintings, I want people to look at the dots, but many people were seeing dollar signs. That’s not really art. But, I mean, it’s great that art can survive in any market. And that’s the most important thing.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

You are here in Kiev, in Ukraine, for this “Future Generation Art Prize”. We are here doing this interview close to works of one of the contestants. Is it important for you to participate in this kind of initiative?

Damien Hirst, artist

Everybody starts life as a young artist. So I think it’s great. You need to encourage.I mean, what Viktor Pinchuk is doing is fantastic. He’s encouraging artists from all over the world, helping to promote them. When Viktor asked me to be on the panel of artists associated with the prize, I said yes, if the prize is big money. And I think the prize is big money. When I was in London, I won the Turner prize, which was 20.000 pounds, a lot of money at the time. That really kind of helps you. I think any help for artists is good because, you know, there are many many more starving and poor artists in the world than there are rich ones.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

You are here together with other big artists, such as Jeff Koons. Is it true there’s a little rivalry between you and Koons, or is it just something the press made up?

Damien Hirst, artist

No, not really. I mean, I buy Jeff’s work, I’m a big collector and I love Jeff’s work.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

And does he buy yours?

Damien Hirst, artist

I don’t think so. I think he buys older art. He’s a bit older than me, anyway. When I was a young artist, I went to the Saatchi Gallery and saw Jeff’s show, I was a student and Jeff was already a big artist then. He was kind of my hero. I’m not Jeff’s hero.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

So what do you expect for the next years? Will you continue on the same line as now?

Damien Hirst, artist

Well with the auction, I’ve stopped many of my bodies of work, so I stopped with the butterflies, I stopped with all the formaldehyde works. I’m doing new things, I’ve cleared the studio and I’m having lots of fun, like back in the beginning.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Will you keep up with the skulls?

Damien Hirst, artist

I’ve always liked the skulls. Since my girlfriend said to me “you can’t do skulls because they’re too fashionable”, that made me really want to do it. That’s why I did the diamond skull. Because I think a skull can never become too fashionable. Like in Mexico.I have a house in Mexico and they love the skull there. It’s just an endless repeated thing. And I like to keep doing it until it becomes fashionable again, unfashionable, fashionable, unfashionable, so, I don’t know.

Ricardo Figueira, euronews

Damien Hirst, thank you very much, it was a pleasure having you. And… Merry Christmas!

Damien Hirst, artist

Merry Christmas!