Damien Hirst – Art is easy

“The reason I got to the top is because the top wasn’t very high,” he tells Phaidon
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Damien Hirst (centre) interviewed by William Furlong and Norman Rosenthal, London, 2003
Damien Hirst (centre) interviewed by William Furlong and Norman Rosenthal, London, 2003

It was in 2003 (following a retrospective at White Cube) that talk of a Damien Hirst Tate Retrospective first began to surface. Earlier that year he had shown a series of drawings, From The Cradle To The Grave, in a Ljubljana gallery. To coincide with the Ljubljana show, Hirst sat down for an interview with William Furlong and Norman Rosenthal and that interview appears in Phaidon's newly reprinted Speaking of Art. It's a fascinating portrait of a moment in time.

By 2003, Hirst was already a household name of course and already worth a reported £35m. What's more, he would have the public believe that it all came so easily, saying about art at one point during the talk: “It’s a piece of piss, isn’t it?"

Referring to the millions of pieces of art that are created each day and how only a few are worth keeping (he cites the Mona Lisa) Hirst says tellingly: "Art seems to be the antithesis of everything else in the world that is mass-produced. These are individual, unique objects that are handcrafted or made with care." Later in the chat however, he lets drop for the first time that assistants create his own work.

"I'm very lazy. I would probably go to somebody and have a fabrication drawing made from a doodle that I'd done. I don't even paint my own spots. If I can pay somebody else to do it, I will. So that work on the cover (of the exhibition catalogue) is a fabrication drawing, and I can give it to a fabricator and say, 'I want five of these please, and while you're at it, take a couple of pounds out of the till for yourself. You've been fabulous.'"

Either boastfully or modestly, Hirst went on to say that the reason he became so successful is essentially, because the art world was a mess. “I don’t believe in genius. I believe in freedom,” he says at one point. “It would be very tempting to believe the hype and listen to everybody when they say you’re amazing. But at the end of the day you’ve got to go with the reason I got here - which has to be at least half of the story - which is that the art world was a shambles. The reason why I got to the top is because the top wasn’t very high."

The interview appears in Speaking of Art alongside interviews with Tacita Dean, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, Richard Hamilton, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and Jeff Koons among many others. The book is a fascinating document of a moment in time for each artist - what they were working on and what it was about to lead to. You can pre-order the reprinted edition here.


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Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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