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Beautiful Inside My Head Forever: An interview with Tim Marlow

Tim Marlow and Damien Hirst 2008

Damien Hirst
'The Golden Calf' (2008) (detail)

Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

TM  Damien, with the shark piece, 'The Kingdom', it’s clear you're reworking something that is very familiarly yours. Is that the main point of this, that in a sense, it’s a self-reference?

DH  I did one for a show I did in Mexico called the ‘The Wrath of God’ but I’ve always tried to avoid making ‘Hirsts’ but I think now, after having kids or something, I kind of thought ‘Well, you know, there’s no point’. I did a show in Naples [2004] which was my first retrospective and I think at that time I was afraid of looking back, but now, with this work, it’s kind of like a greatest hits, with a twist, or something like that.

TM  So this is maturity then? When you reach a certain point in your career you feel able or confident to look back?

DH  I think when you're young, you spend a lot of time discovering or creating a language for yourself, a visual language, but then after a while you realise there is no point carrying on doing that and you start to use the language [used by everyone]. So, I think, you know, sharks mean something to us all and they mean something to me and this sort of triggers the repetition of things that keep coming up, like dots, spins, all that kind of stuff... I think you get to a point suddenly, a key point, when you’ve got less time in front of you than you have behind you and you become aware of that and you think, ‘well now I’ve got this visual language I have got to say something’.

TM  You described the first shark, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ as a thing to describe a feeling which is, I think, a great, succinct way of looking at that. Is this still a thing to describe a feeling and has the feeling changed?

DH  Yeah, I think so. It’s called ‘The Kingdom’, so there’s obviously a reference to God or to the animal kingdom, but it’s really important that it’s small, it’s got smaller, as far as I’ve got older as an artist, that sort of 'wow' factor has diminished in some way. I remember when I did the cow cut in half, it looked tragic in some way. The first shark does frighten you, whereas with this one I want you to have a bit more distance from it, because we’ve kind of got ahead. I am no longer an enfant terrible, I’m an OAP now, or closer to that!

TM  The cabinets that adorn this wall, in a sense they are another one of your trademarks. I wonder where they first came from. Were these three-dimensional frames, was presentation or the form in which objects and ideas were put, was that the first thing that came for you or did you have ideas and then had to think of different ways in which you were going to present them?

DH  I always liked minimalism; Judd, Le Witt, all those guys. I loved the idea of minimalism as a force against life or God or something like that. You don’t get geometry in life. I love snooker, I love the way that snooker players try and be a machine, you know machines are totally alien to humans.... so the spot paintings kind of came out of the idea of snooker, I was always a bit suspicious of art and wanted it to be more in the real world. I found myself looking for a Donald Judd in a building site rather than one in an art gallery. Now it's so recognisable what I do but when I did ‘Pharmacy’ (1992) for the first time, people were really walking in and thinking they were in the wrong place. I mean these ones, these ‘Medicine Cabinets’, they definitely work like a hospital cabinet, so you see it in an art gallery and you think maybe it shouldn’t be there, or you’re in the wrong place. My friend Joe Strummer once said to me that when he writes songs he always says that if you can guess what the rhyme is going to be in the next line, then it’s shit, and you have to change it so, I think, in the same way, it’s always great when you see an artwork and you have to question, “Is it an artwork? Where’s the art?” you know? I'm interested in the confusion between art and life, I like it when the world gets in the way. After I bought my place in Mexico I had this idea to put a load of objects under the sea there, to see how the coral would grow on them, sort of to see the world collide with the art in a more literal way. Some were things I’d collected – old plates and cups – and others were things I had made, amazing and beautiful treasures from around the world, Thailand and all over the place, and I got some local fishermen to help me sink them. They could be completely covered in coral by now, and unrecognisable, or be worn away, or have been broken up or stolen, but I’m planning to bring up what’s left of them in another ten years or so, and I want to show them all at Pinchuk’s gallery. It's the action of the world on things...

TM  Sounds fascinating. Do you generally keep surprising yourself, you certainly surprise other people with what you do?

DH  I think I surprise myself less now, I think because you kind of suggest things. I feel like I have started series and I have to kind of end them all.

TM  Why do you have to end them all? Because you exert control over them? 

DH  I think because I have so many strings to my bow in terms of which type of work that I make, as you can see in here, but then I admire people like Sol le Witt, that kind of driven vision of something to kind of pursue it and go through it, like On Kawara is a great example of somebody who just repeatedly goes through it. You devote your life to something like that and it becomes admirable, it becomes art and just through your perseverance people notice you and it becomes an important thing so I think, I set off the spot paintings, to do that. I said I am going to do an endless series and see it through, but then I get bored because I am not that type of person really so I sort of imply an endless series and then keep doing it and keep doing it... I am going to end a lot series, I mentioned that to you before.

TM  What about the spots though because, you see, you say they seemed endless at the beginning but then just when you might think actually you may end them, you do something different and you realise there are many more possibilities. I mean four giant dots, that suddenly opens up a completely new avenue and likewise you taking it much smaller opens up a completely new avenue. Does this seem full of possibilities for you or does it seem an end point?

DH The spots do. I mean I was going to use this exhibition to end everything, I was going to end the formaldehyde works, the spin paintings, the butterflies and the spot paintings. I’ve realised now I am doing one mm, one and a half mm dots, that one painting measuring seven foot square will take twenty years, so I figured I am going do that, I can do that for the rest of my life now. So the spots are going to stay, I'm going to carry on doing those. But the butterflies I'm going to stop, I'm going to stop the spins, and then with the formaldehydes there's a few I works I want to make, I always said I imagined a zoo of dead animals, the whole series is called 'Natural History', I've got a big piece I'm working on with crucified cows so I'm going to finish that.

TM  If you could computer generate almost every possibility or permutation for the spots and have them realised, without any involvement from you, would that be something that interested you? I mean what I’m getting at is how much is the process of conceiving ideas and overseeing them being made and actually being involved in their making important to you or how much is it just the finished object? 

DH  I mean, I am into conceptual art. I loved all that. I was taught by Michael Craig-Martin. The oak tree tree piece he did is one of my favourite pieces.

TM  With the glass of water.

DH  The glass of water, yeah, so there’s a lot of the conceptual side of it that goes into it but with the dot paintings, they were conceived as an endless series and it’s just a case of how you go through that. I think I was afraid of painting. I’ve started painting now, like I’ve said before, in the garden, doing proper paintings, paintings from objects and I think that’s from getting a bit older. I think I was afraid of that so I was constantly obsessed with the idea of painting in some way and being a painter but then I have created all kinds of machines that paint to avoid the personal thing... I gave up painting when I was thirteen or something, because I saw Bacons and I just thought ‘I can’t do that’ because he had sort of covered the ground and I never had the courage really to go through that, so I found that I could do sculpture and objects but the desire to be a painter was always there, so then I started making paintings which were like mechanical paintings, like the idea of a painter being a machine, like a machine that makes paintings like in the future. But I think Warhol paved the way for all that kind of stuff and making money acceptable as well, what brought the art to life for me was the commerce, the mechanical aspects of it, because I was into all that 50s brown and sombre if you’re depressed and red and yellow if you’re happy paintings kind of thing, but then it just became not believable.

TM  So do you now find these paintings that you are doing alone and on you’re own, is that a liberating process, does it feel very necessary or does it feel like an exploration, like you are trying to work out where it’s going to lead you?

DH  The paintings on my own, I don’t know, I think it’s probably to do with death or something or getting older but when I started and picked up a brush again I was horrified to find I had left it when I was twelve years old so I had to just go back there again and it was awful, but the one thing that I learnt had changed was that I can actually paint, that I had discovered that through making lots and lots of different things that if you just persevere, you will get through. If you believe that failure isn’t an option, then it isn’t an option... I can get through this bad patch if I just keep working and I did it and I painted for about two years and they were looking really horrible. I had given it up as an option, as well, because I had so many people working for me and I felt that I had lost the chance to go into a garret somewhere and paint on my own with no one because I am responsible for everything else but, somehow, in the middle of it all, by having very good people and people who work for me and people I trust and people who have been around for a long time, I cleared a little space where I could actually go and do that.

TM  There’s a beautiful 'fact' painting, well, there are many but there is a beautiful fact painting which is in the show. You mention Michael Craig-Martin, your former teacher and he is holding 'For the Love of God'. He’s holding the diamond skull.

DH  Yeah. Don’t you think he looks like Rembrandt?

TM  He does actually. It’s the nose, isn’t it?

DH  Yeah. What is that nose?

TM  But Rembrandt has this fantastically distinctive bulbous nose and you’re right, it does look like him. But is this in a sense an act of love? Or just dispassionate?

DH  It’s a snap that I took there and well obviously Michael taught me, plus he’s a bit older so he’s like a father figure to us in some ways, it just felt right. I took it on my phone for him to have. With the ‘fact’ paintings I was just trying to not paint something that was so set up, so it’s like a glimpse or an accident or something like that, so like the Sotheby’s one that we have done of the molecule, I just thought that would be apt. You know I like the bad crops, I like the photographs that you find on the floor in the one hour photo shop kind of thing, so rich, with the self-reference.

TM  It’s funny that you know these are called ‘fact’ paintings because of the supposed factual nature of photography on which they are based, but the ‘Biopsy’ paintings are in a sense more brutally factual aren’t they, in that Bacon-esque way, the brutality of the fact?

DH  Yeah, I suppose. But you know you can’t get your mind around it because they are so pretty, as well aren’t they? I guess, well I would call it pretty but it’s funny, people can’t buy those. Some people can’t bring themselves to buy them.

TM  Okay, so twenty years ago, this year, 'Freeze' happened. You were a young, second year student at Goldsmiths, you curated that show, twenty years on you have this epic exhibition and sale at Sotheby’s. I mean that’s a hell of a shift and obviously you could never see that was going to happen but is this whole project with Sotheby’s part of the same impulse that you’ve always had to control [your own shows]?

DH  Yeah, I mean I think it’s definitely following a road isn’t it. I have always been afraid of museums and felt that they are kind of dusty and stuffy and when you get in there you’re kind of dead. If you feel alive as an artist, you’re too busy to look back in some ways. So I definitely had a feeling, ever since the beginning, I was into punk but I was a bit too young for that and I had a feeling like, “we don’t care and don’t look back” and all that kind of stuff so there’s all that but then, for me, the commerce side of art, you know, the idea that you are not just making a painting but you can be changing the world, changing the way people perceive the world and when you are actually making art and you’re seeing it on adverts and TV and Paperchase and people are buying wallpaper with your dot paintings on it, that makes me feel alive. And then there’s the money changing hands, you know, when I was a kid, I didn’t have any money in the beginning. We had the electricity cut off and things like that so money was quite a big thing that meant a lot and it was something that you had to work out. I was always afraid at the beginning that money was maybe more powerful than art and more important than art and I had a kind of religious belief in art. I remember when I used to have girlfriends and I would say “I’m an artist” and I’d say “I’ve got to paint” and I’d chose the painting over you kind of thing, I was a complete knob.

TM  I thought that had maybe had been a chat up line.

DH  Now, I suppose, I would know it as a chat up line but at the time you really believed it. It’s kind of silly really.

TM  Belief is an interesting thing and it’s always there in your work and it’s something you’ve talked about endlessly but I would still like to talk about it a little if I can. I mean, this, for example, ‘Anatomy of an Angel’. There are all sorts of Damien Hirst references here or things that people would associate with you science, sculpture, angels. But there is also something of a kind of childish vision here, of trying to make sense of getting beneath the surface of what an angel actually is. Does this relate in any way to your childhood thoughts about religion and what it might have been and whether you could prove it or not?

DH  I remember when I was younger that somebody once said to me that everyone has got a guardian angel. They said you can’t see them, they are invisible. And as a kid, I took all that literally. I remember I used to spin around really fast trying to hit the guardian angel and things like that but now that I am a bit older, I think religion, indoctrinating children, is a pretty gruesome way to go about things. For me religion is just like an old story. I find I love futility and things that go wrong or hopeless desires or things like that. Like with science, this is to give you information about how the body works, yet it’s an angel. But it’s also like, if you did this to someone, it would kill them and it’s very brutal but they sort of try to go beyond that and try and seduce you.

TM  Suspended disbelief, I suppose?

DH  Yeah or just the way you have to kill things to look at them sometimes and the way that that becomes futile.

TM  Which is also related to your 'Natural History' series, that these animals have to be killed in order to be looked at in a different way to be represented as art but then, at the same time, they have to be preserved in a poisonous liquid to some extent to gain a kind of immortality.

DH  Yeah, what I like about them, is that they have a sort of personality, they have a sort of tragedy. I mean normally what you would do, is you’d put the meat in the supermarket, you’d do the chicken one after the other and you’d wrap it up and they look all the same and they are totally uniform, so you remove all the personality but to put them into formaldehyde, you can see the face and it becomes almost like a sad old person or something like that. As people, we find it very difficult to relate. If you put dead humans in a tank you wouldn’t believe it but with an animal you can have a lot of feelings towards it, which is kind of screwed up anyway.

TM  I take the point that you’re dispassionate, in fact you’re removed from religion and the Catholicism of your childhood but butterfly paintings relating to psalms, stained glass windows, trees of life, crucified animals, obviously religious imagery is still there in your art. Does art in any way help you make sense of religion as you get older.

DH  I stopped going to church when I was twelve. I was confirmed a Catholic, I was brought up a Catholic, my mother totally believed in it.

TM  Does she still believe?

DH  No she got divorced and then the church just said ‘see you later’. I can remember that. Being a bit upset by that. That was probably when I just thought well, it’s not because she needed it so if it’s not there to help someone in that situation then I just thought this is a pile of crap. But I think it’s very difficult to undo what’s been done so when you spend up to twelve years, going into church, seeing all those things, it’s there, in a way. You don’t have the ability to go back and take it out and to undermine it but I think... I find myself just being philosophical about it and thinking my belief in art is similar to a belief in religion because it’s unquestioning.

TM  So that’s the compulsion, that’s why you’ll stay doing it, not because you feel the need to purge any remnant of religious belief out of your system or even find some kind of understanding of what religious belief might be through art?

DH  No, I mean I try to find roles. Adam and Eve is to do with origins, it’s about a couple fucking, a boy meets girl and that’s always going to be there. You can find that today, you can find that 1,000 years ago, 2,000 years ago, wherever. The birds do it, the bees do it, you do it with all kinds of animals, so that’s a recurring theme that comes up and any kind of creation, any creative idea can come from the point of Adam and Eve... I suppose it’s not as silly as the guy with the beard on a cloud.

TM  Just looking aroud at the range of work which is, I mean it’s been a character of what you’ve done over the last two decades. I just wonder whether art comes easily to you, very easily to you, whether you ever struggle with trying to make art, come up with new ideas, interest yourself or engage yourself?

DH  I think after a while if it’s coming easily to you, you should move on. So like you say with the dot paintings, you think it’s over but then you come up with another variation which you’d have to do for that series, but then art implies other art so you can get kind of stuck there, but I tell you what I have become aware of recently is that this kind of work is about youth, it’s about being younger or something and it is conceptual art and yet I just suddenly started thinking that conceptual art is really for young men in some way or something like that. I’m 42 but I probably sound like I’m 50, 60 or something. I don’t mean it like you just suddenly see a pathway to the end. I can’t see myself lugging about huge tanks... I think the guy who made these, he’s not around any more, I’ve changed, so that’s why I kind of want to move into a different area, that makes a different kind of sense. But I’ve always thought that art, art is like a map of a person’s life and I am definitely a chameleon. Some people could say ‘Well you’ve got many strings to your bow’ but then you could also say ‘you don’t know what the hell you’re doing’ but then like I said with those endless series it never felt right to me to go from the beginning of my life to the end of my life with an endless series of dot paintings. But you know there are artists who would just do the dot paintings, that would be it forever and we would admire them and they would go down in the history books...

TM  For their rigour and their single-mindedness...

DH  Yeah, but you know the great thing about art is if you just commit to it then it becomes great.

TM  So do you wander around sometimes looking at the work you’ve produced, the range of work you’ve produced and feel it tells you something quite profound about yourself you’d never realised?

DH  I sometimes, I go around the studio or the studios when it’s being made sometimes and I look at it and think it’s the babbling of an insane mind, I just think I must be out of my mind. Won’t you just give it a rest you know because there is so much stuff, and then also you just think well there’s enough stuff in the world, why do have to fill it with more stuff. But I think you have an idea and you follow it through to its conclusion but then, I don’t know, I think I’m definitely feeling there’s a change in the air that’s why doing this auction is good, because it’s such a kind of neutral... I feel excited about it being in a new way because I have kind of got to a point where I’ve got these galleries that represent me, we all make lots of money, I should give them these works, one after another and we should sell them at a pleasant rate, with a pleasant rate of increasing prices and sit on my chair with my name on it next to all the big guys and as they die, they wheel the chairs out and wheel another one in but it terrifies me that idea.

TM  What about the idea of where your work goes, because I think because it's always said that the primary market, as in galleries, place work and the auction house whether it's primary or secondary, you know it's open, it's democratic, I can see the appeal of that but do you care deep down about where these things that you've created end up?

DH  I mean the horror is them getting thrown away. I mean for any artist to think it's like you make work, you give someone a painting and it goes in a loft and it doesn't go on the wall, I mean you want your work on the wall and you want people seeing it, but I think one of the reasons why I put boxes around things is so that you can't fit it in your loft. You know they are not fragile they are big, chunky things and I've always sort of felt that it needs to be safe once it leaves the studio. If it's big and it's heavy and you know what the Momart bill is going to be then you can sort of relax that somebody's not going to be giving it away, you know and it's quite a commitment to have it.

TM  You’re a collector so on one level you cherish things and objects clearly, but on another level as an artist who is making works and selling them and also now working in a way where you are not really in control of where it goes, you have to have let go, I suppose, you can’t really worry too much.

DH  I think you have to let go as an artist I mean for instance if I was just selling the chair with the ashtray and the cigarettes on it and no box around it, I would lose sleep over that, thinking, ‘where is it now? is that cigarette okay’. I’d be phoning up to say “can you just check that the cigarette’s not been broken” and maybe send them another one whereas when you put a box around it like that you can kind of relax about it. So I think I have always made things that are robust in that way.

TM  The box is artful too, isn’t it. It’s a three-dimensional frame, it both protects something but it also gives it a kind of context. Is the box ever the starting point for you?

DH  Yeah, it goes both ways. It’s conceptual. You kind of claim the gallery space with a box. Wherever you put this, you can have any other sculpture next to it and it’s kind of claimed its own space. Whereas, like a painting does as well the same thing, it’s just like a square on the wall and you know even if you put a big painting next to it’s still going to be its space and it retains it.

TM  This amazing smoking cigarette cabinet, fag end cabinet, is your studio in danger of catching emphysema?

DH I mean when you buy this, the cigarettes are all in individual little packets, cleaned, you get a bag of ash, you get a map, numbers and they all get laid out. I remember when I used to spend quite a lot of time working out how that would happen but now the studio does it. I once had a big ashtray which is 8ft and it’s got 15 bin bags of cigarette butts in it. It’s called Party Time and it’s just a blown up ash tray with normal size butts and I sold that and the museum that bought it... some poor guy in the museum called me up and said, “Oh I’ve got the ashtray and I’ve got the 15 bags of cigarette butts and I’ve got the trannie, do we have to match the trannie exactly with the cigarette butts?"

TM  To which I hope you said “Yes”.

DH  No, I couldn’t. I should have done really but people do that with art, you know. When you get to a certain level there are people who just do that for you. They write maps, like with the formaldehyde works you get a whole booklet with it and I kind of love all that, it makes me feel that things are safe.

TM  How do you feel about managing a vast studio operation. Is that something you genuinely relish? There’s parallels with Warhol, there’s parallels with a Renaissance studio...

DH  I think if you’ve got good people and you look after it on a small level then it can grow to any size. I don’t think it matters but then you know I’ve been doing it since I was, I don’t know, maybe about twenty. I had Hugh who works for me and still works for me. He was working for me and it was just the two of us and he used to paint and then he stopped painting and at that point I remember I felt a bit responsible to this other guy wondering, ‘are you sure you should be giving up painting to work for me?’ It’s a big responsibility. You go through all this stuff as an employer and as a friend and you end up with a good company and you become responsible and we’re all learning, we all grow together, so, yeah, I’m cool with it.

TM  People looking at a cabinet like this, in a sense there is an extraordinary beauty in what’s presented here but it’s kind of abject to and then in another cabinet you’ve got a series of industrially produced diamonds. Once you present them in this cabinet form is there a kind of distinction that is blurred between what’s inside do you think or do they maintain their separateness? Are they radically different pieces?

DH  I mean I’ve always been into a duality. It’s like when I do the fly paintings, I want to do the butterfly pieces...

TM  Good and evil...

DH  Yeah, heaven and hell. I thought it would be great to do a cabinet with just flies in it, I mean you say I'm ending all the series but then you wake up in the night and go: 'What about a cabinet with just flies in it?!'

TM  And tell me about industrially produced diamonds, I mean is this a riff on the fact that in For the Love of God, you had the most perfect diamonds virtually you could get? industrially produced diamonds...

DH  I always like that thing that Warhol did where he uses the diamond dust and it's actually broken glass and he calls it diamond dust and I think that's the, you know, the whole thing about diamonds, even in the diamond skull is that there's the whole, the idea of wealth, it's the desire of wealth as something over mortality or something like that. You can have a birthday card with diamonds, diamonds are diamonds, they don't really have to be real to give you that feeling of immortality and foreverness. You know diamonds are...there's a big hard sell on diamonds even real diamonds and in a way these diamonds, I mean it would have been impossible to make a cabinet with real diamonds in. Each diamond would be like 4 million so you would be talking about billions and billions for one cabinet but the idea, first of all you know I thought 'well I've done the diamond skull so I could make it with real diamonds', but then you just think it doesn't matter. There's fake diamonds for a reason as well. And they sparkle, I mean they are perfect. They're more perfect than real ones.

TM  At the end here, there’s a kind of crescendo I think to this whole project, with 'The Golden Calf'. Do you see certain works in your career as major moments, staging posts if you like, or would you not broadly speaking distinguish between a piece like this and an individual painting?

DH  Well for me I would say at the moment there are three works that do it for me but then when you kind of hit something that astounds your expectations... I don’t know if that could be the fourth maybe but I’ve got to get further away from it really to work it out.

TM  What are the other three? ‘A Thousand Years’...

DH  ‘A Thousand Years’, the shark, the diamond skull and that could be the fourth.

TM  I mean this a phenomenal piece. I mean it’s not that widely used in the history of art. I think Poussin did probably the most celebrated but the idea that from the biblical story that you worship a false idol.

DH  Yeah.

TM  That’s quite charged in the context of this piece and in the context of where you’re showing it too.

DH  I think that’s the whole point really. As an artist you work within your means and I’ve got to the point where you can get money without being successful. You’ve got to be very careful. I find it’s a lot easier to make art in bad times than it is in good times for an artist but I think there’s a reason why we’re using diamonds and gold and stuff and it’s because of where art is in situation to all that stuff. I think as an artist you do work within your means. The piece becomes about that, about worship of wealth, or unfounded wealth or just false gods. Like ‘what are you gonna believe in?’ And I think we all need to believe in something.

TM  Presumably, though, there is an element of worship of this, of an object as a creation in and of itself? I mean you play with that?

DH  But yeah I mean with ‘The Golden Calf’ and the diamond skull, I like those contradictions. It’s like a catch twenty-two isn’t it? You’re worshipping the thing...it’s almost undermining itself as well, freeing itself from the dilemma. Normally it was a gold calf so this is sad... it’s a real calf so it has that tragedy, it’s almost failing in some way.

TM  Only gold accessories...

DH  Yeah.

TM  Any temptation to cast an entire calf or is that too literal, too close?

DH  I think you could do that but I think we’ve had so much art of stuff. The reason I did the formaldehyde in the first place was because I just wanted you to have more of a feeling of something that pushes you away and pulls you in. There’s a bit of an ‘ugh’ about it, there’s a dirtiness and a tragedy but the thing that I love about the formaldehyde works is that they are made from the same stuff we are. You know you are looking at yourself in a way when you are looking at anything in formaldehyde tank and it doesn’t look well. It makes you think. There’s that great quote that 'we are here for a good time not a long time' and I think you could call all the formaldehyde works that in some ways.

TM  The piece on the adjacent wall here which was photographed that was taken of you with a dead head. I think it was taken in a morgue at Leeds when you were doing anatomy drawings and that became a photographic edition. Now you’re painting it. Is this the painting of something that is already a distant memory and by painting it you’re distancing yourself from it even further?

DH  Yeah. The title of it was ‘Young Damien’. I just called it ‘Young Damien’, but I thought it’s just kind of an iconic photograph and I always felt...the only piece that I made from that photograph was a photographic piece and it seems to me that I’ve gone somewhere. I suppose this painting is when I was actually painting like what I’m telling you now so maybe that surfaced up to put that to bed finally in some way but then I also thought it looked a bit like a Richter and I have always loved those Richter paintings...

TM  Where they are obliterated.

DH  Yeah so I’ve been doing...it’s the only black and white painting I’ve done. 

TM  And looking at yourself smiling in the face of death there, has that attitude changed?

DH  Oh yeah, I think so for sure. I feel more like the other guy now.

TM  I can't think of a better note on which to end it.

This conversation was filmed at Hirst's Gloucestershire studio ahead of the 'Beautiful Inside My Head Forever' auction. Held at Sotheby's London in September 2008, the auction saw Hirst take the unprecedented step of bypassing gallery involvement and selling 244 new works directly to bidders. The edited film can be viewed here.

Tim Marlow is a critic and broadcaster and Director of Exhibitions at White Cube gallery.

© Tim Marlow and Damien Hirst