Monday, August 12, 2013

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst – what do I think of him? He’s a special case, not easily assimilated into my art-world view. The first works that come to mind are the animals in tanks. In medical school we dissected human cadavers, it was all in the day’s work. So, a shark suspended in formalin is kind of, so what? I haven’t seen any of Hirst’s whole or sliced animals in real life and perhaps that experience would bring about a change of attitude. But I don’t think so. The fact is, most conceptual art needs verbal context or backing in some form, whether a title or a label on the wall. In the case of a sliced cow and calf, the title “Mother and Child, Divided” is enough to go on with, and likewise the shark titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”. Many people can do without the verbal prompt but I need it as a clue to the artist’s intentions. After all, he has been accused of all sorts of shallowness, emptiness and worse. One appreciates indications of good faith.

Damien Hirst has given many interviews, both print and video. My take is that he’s a brutally honest sort of person which gives me confidence in his art. This is not to say it’s good or bad art (who am I to say anyway), merely that honesty is high on my personal list of criteria.

“Anything done well – super well – is art. I don’t believe in God but my belief in art is almost religious. It’s like a mathematical sum where you can miraculously make 1 + 1 = 3. You can do something like a diamond skull and it can be s**t or it can be 1 + 1 = 2 and that’s not good enough, or it can be 1 + 1 = 1 and you can wish you never did it and it never comes out of the studio.” 
“The diamond skull ... artists make art from what’s around them. We had these boom times with everybody buying art with loads of money. I had no money as a kid and to be in that situation was kind of nuts ... the diamond skull was the only thing I could come up with to make. It kind of scared the hell out of me ... it dawned on me that I was in the position of emperors and kings where you spend millions on fabricating something, you know ...?” 
"Making art, good art, is always a struggle. It can make you happy when you pull it off. There's no better feeling. It's beauteous. But it's always about hard work and inspiration and sweat and good ideas. I don't believe it's about God-given genius, but I do believe somehow in the magic of art even though I don't want to. I believe in science. I want clear answers. [...] I want to make art, create objects that will have meaning for ever. It's a big ambition, universal truth, but somebody's gotta do it."

Reading some reviews of recent exhibitions of his own paintings (i.e. not done by assistants) I was amazed at the mud that was slung ... he was even likened to Hitler by one writer. I thought the paintings were pretty good. Perhaps technical flaws might show up with direct viewing rather than seeing them online, but they looked strong and distinctive to my inexpert eye.

My bottom line after this brief acquaintance with his work is that the quality of Damien Hirst’s ideas is exceptional, and I don’t believe that any artist reaches where he has reached without talent and hard work.

NOT art by Damien Hirst , this is octopuses preserved in formalin.


Claudine Fear said...

Maybe so Mary, However, the paintings I have seen are distinctly underwhelming. He is an ideas man and his objects are much more impressive than the 2D work. The butterfly wings are beautiful but, again, will they be considered great art in the future? I don't know how his work will stand up to scrutiny in the fullness of time but I am pretty certain it won't be for is paintings.

Mary Adam said...

Hi Claudine -- it seems that there's a consensus that the paintings are not very good, but in what context? Is it the way the paint is put on or the composition or some other factor?

Claudine Fear said...

Hi Mary, Sorry for delay in answering. Life has intervened.

The painting is not skillful as you or I would understand it as many artists do not particularly care about this so, this in itself, may not be a reason to crticise, but the work is not visually or intelectually arresting either (in my opinion). Composition in many is not particularly good but neither is the subject matter original or interesting. However, that said, it is definitely something to do with the lack of painterliness for me.

I spent quite a long time looking at them and came away very disappointed as I was really wanting them to be good, contrary to the critics opinion. However, I do think the butterfly wing pictures have something to offer and these are very visually pleasing in the way that stained glass can be wonderful. I still think his preseved animal pieces are great. They probably will stand the test of time except that they aren't durable and would need to be recreated, his pharmacy and diamond skull etc will also last. These are the "Ideas" which are really what the mainstream art scene is about now.

I know we like to draw, paint and make prints but the trend is against us. I hope there will still be room for all forms of art!!!!

Mary Adam said...

Hi again Claudine. Yes, the skill of the paint application can't be seen properly on the computer so I take your word for that. What I like is the overall impact. It's as if he already has a style or voice in paint, out of nowhere, since he hasn't done anything like these before (to my knowledge). In my limited experience it's no mean feat. On the matter of the trend being against us, I think as you hope that there is always room for all forms of art. I'm getting more sanguine about it. There's some art I personally loathe but I keep it to myself and won't blog about it -- live and let live, that's more and more the way I feel about art.

Mary Adam said...

P.S. I came across another whole set of reviews and interviews while looking to see if Hirst's Blue paintings had sold. I might do another post on him soon.