Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Damien Hirst ... mad genius or just plain mad?

Damien Hirst has always been controversial. Never before has an artist so polarized public opinion. He has been lauded as a genius and dismissed as a talentless hack in equal measure. His conceptual and installation artwork, which has included a bejeweled skull, a marinated shark and dissected bovines, have been described as both ground-breaking and pointless pop-art ... and much more besides.

However, the one thing that is not disputed is the enormity of his success, or the size of his bank account. In monetary terms at least, Hirst is the world's most successful artist ever. Full stop. Without question. And that degree of success demands a certain level of respect.

I have been fascinated by Hirst, the man not the artist, for a long time. I am absolutely not a fan of his work - in fact I find it, for the most part, repulsive. However, my intensely negative response to his art is what makes me interested in the man. Is he indeed a genius, or just an off-the-wall character who happened to get lucky in the fickle world of modern art? Is he motivated by art for art's sake or is he more concerned with his burgeoning personal wealth?

It was in the hope of answering some of these questions that I tuned into In Confidence on Sky Arts this week. In this rare interview, Hirst recounts tales from his childhood, when he wanted to be as good as another boy in his class at drawing dinosaurs. He describes his flirtation with the Beatles before becoming a full-fledged punk during a delinquent adolescence. He tells us how his mother destroyed his vinyl records by heating them on the gas cooker which bent them into the shape of flower-pots. He admits to "selling-out" by off-loading some of his work on Charles Saatchi.

Throughout the hour-long interview, he rarely answers the question asked, instead wandering off on tangents. He contradicts himself, or more correctly, gives several answers to one question. His memories are jumbled and vague. His sentences are mixed-up and fragmented. One suspects that his is a mind that works at warp-speed - there seems to be so much going on inside his head that his thoughts and ideas tumble out haphazardly. There is obviously a fierce intelligence hiding behind those weird blue-tinted glasses. But beyond that, he is still a mystery.

Is he mad? Yes. Eccentric? Most definitely. Talented? Possibly.

However, the one thing that we can all agree on is that Mr Damien Hirst is intensely interesting and more than a little intriguing. He remains an enigma, and therefore we remain curious. This is what will ensure he will remain in the spotlight for some time to come, even if the jury is still out on his work.

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