Archive for September, 2008

I think, if one is a painter, all you experience does come out when you’re painting.

September 30, 2008

Lee Krasner

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Lena Krassner (who preferred to be called Lenore, later Lee, and who changed her last name to Krasner) was born on 27 October 1908 to an immigrant Russian-Jewish couple. Her early art training was at The Cooper Union, Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design in New York, where she studied from 1928-32. Her headstrong, independent character often set Krasner at odds with her instructors at the conservative academy, where she nevertheless received a thorough grounding in drawing, painting, and design.

After graduating from the academy, Krasner took college courses toward a teaching certificate and worked as a model and waitress. In spite of the onset of the Great Depression, she did not give up hope of becoming a full-time professional artist. That goal seemed more attainable when, in 1934, she was accepted for employment by the Public Works of Art Project, the first of the New Deal art patronage programs. Like Pollock and many of their contemporaries, she would depend on government work, principally for the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP), until the agencies were disbanded in 1943. Curiously, although she and Pollock were employed at the same time on the New York City FAP, they apparently met only once during that period, at an Artists Union party in 1936. Both were still in their formative years as artists; Krasner, despite her professional validation by the FAP, was dissatisfied with her development. In 1937 she returned to art school, this time at the 8th Street atelier of the celebrated German émigré Hans Hofmann, who transmitted principles of modernism from Munich and Paris to New York. She was associated with Hofmann’s school through 1940, and during that period radically revised her visual language. Having begun her career with naturalistic, even illustrative, paintings and drawings, she quickly discarded old orthodoxies in favor of a schematic cubist idiom, in which she created her first mature works.

Continuing her active involvement in artistic, political, and professional causes, Krasner joined the American Abstract Artists, showed her paintings in the group’s exhibitions, and rapidly gained credence as a younger-generation modernist. Intense, serious, and ambitious, she prided herself on knowing all the notable members of the city’s minuscule avant-garde, so when she was invited to participate in an important group exhibition, “French and American Painting,” she was surprised that the name of one fellow exhibitor, Jackson Pollock, was unfamiliar to her. Impulsively, she arrived at his studio unannounced, introduced herself and asked to see his work. As she later recalled, she was amazed by the creative vigor and emotional intensity his paintings embodied, as well as what she sensed was his latent genius. “How could there be a painter like that that I didn’t know about?” she wondered. Their meeting in late 1941 proved to be decisive for both artists, resulting in a romantic attachment that would lead to their marriage four years later and a mutually enriching professional relationship.

During their early years together, Krasner underwent a profound reappraisal of her artistic direction; she struggled, in her words, to “lose Cubism” and “absorb Pollock.” Nevertheless, although she acknowledged Pollock’s superior gifts, she did not become his follower. More than three years his senior, she was a mature artist when they met and throughout her aesthetic evolution retained elements of her early analytical skills and structural sophistication. Moreover, she never lost her deep admiration for Matisse, an artist who interested Pollock only marginally, and for Mondrian, whose grid remained as an underpinning for many of her all-over compositions, notably her “Little Image” series and rectangle abstractions of 1946-51. Matisse in particular was a life-long source of inspiration for her. Yet the intuitive nature of Pollock’s approach helped free Krasner’s art from formalist strictures, while her discerning eye and keen judgement–as well as her single-minded dedication to promoting his career–proved invaluable to his success.

The most salient characteristic of Krasner’s development was her tendency periodically to revise her earlier efforts, sometimes reworking pieces more than once and occasionally destroying whole bodies of work. This obsessive self-cannibalization was far from detrimental, however, for it led to some of Krasner’s most beautiful and captivating works, beginning with a series of collage paintings, done in the mid-1950s, that brought her work favorable attention in the New York art world after nearly ten years of little or no recognition as an artist in her own right. After she and Pollock moved from New York to a homestead in The Springs, near East Hampton, in November 1945, Krasner used a small bedroom as her primary studio. She had only two solo exhibitions and had work included in two group shows before her 1955 collage exhibition at the Stable Gallery in Manhattan re-established her as among the foremost abstract artists of her generation.

The following year Krasner abruptly changed direction, returning to a sensuous painterly style in which human, animal, and plant forms play prominent roles. Often alluding to the natural world’s cycle of birth and death, the canvases are simultaneously seductive and ominous, life-affirming and morbid. One such painting, later titled Prophecy, (at left) was on her easel in July, when she left for a trip to Europe. Her relationship with Pollock was in ruins: he was drinking heavily and had taken a mistress; and he was no longer painting, while her work was progressing rapidly. At this crisis point in her personal and professional life Pollock was killed in an automobile accident and Krasner was left with the emotional aftermath. Many of these conflicts and their subsequent confrontation and resolution are reflected in her work, which often seems to have served as an antidote to her conscious grief, as in her lyrical “Earth Green” series of 1957-59, and an outlet for her repressed anger, as in the subsequent “Night Journey” series.

Krasner’s development was interrupted in late 1962 when she suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm; this and subsequent bouts of ill health hampered her work for nearly two years. By this time she had established a residence in Manhattan, but continued to spend several months a year in The Springs, where she had moved into Pollock’s former studio. In the 1960s and ’70s Krasner continued to refine the nature-derived imagery she had first explored in the gestural arabesques of the “Earth Green” paintings, emphasizing their calligraphic qualities and later sharpening their edges to resemble cutout collage elements. Following major solo exhibitions, including a retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (1965) and “Lee Krasner: Large Paintings,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1973), together with important exposure in commercial galleries, she emerged from her sometimes stifling role as Mrs. Jackson Pollock and achieved recognition for her own contributions to modern American art. Chief among them is her singular collage aesthetic, which includes compositions as large and ambitious as paintings. In 1976 she made another collage series, this time incorporating figure and still life drawings made during her days as a Hofmann student nearly 40 years earlier. With titles based on conjugations of the verb “to see,” the series alludes to vision and revision, forcefully affirming the cyclic nature of Krasner’s art and life.

That life ended on 19 June 1984 in New York Hospital, where Krasner, in ill health for several years, succumbed to internal bleeding from diverticulitis. The previous October her first full retrospective exhibition in the United States had opened at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and despite infirmity Krasner traveled to Texas for the opening. Sadly, she did not live to see the show come to New York, where, after stops at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chrysler Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum, it opened at the Museum of Modern Art in December 1984.

Bio written by Helen Harrison; Director, Pollock-Krasner House

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.

September 29, 2008

Bob Dylan

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born 24 May 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota; his father Abe worked for the Standard Oil Co. Six years later the family moved to Hibbing, often the coldest place in the US, where he taught himself piano and guitar and formed several high school rock bands. In 1959 he entered the University of Minnesota and began performing as Bob Dylan at clubs in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The following year he went to New York, performed in Greenwich Village folk clubs, and spent much time in the hospital room of his hero Woody Guthrie. Late in 1961 Columbia signed him to a contract and the following year released his first album, containing two original songs. Next year “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” appeared, with all original songs including the 1960s anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind.” After several more important acoustic/folk albums, and tours with Joan Baez, he launched into a new electric/acoustic format with 1965’s “Bringing It All Back Home” which, with The Byrds’ cover of his “Mr Tambourine Man,” launched folk-rock. The documentary Dont Look Back (1967) was filmed at this time; he broke off his relationship with Baez and by the end of the year had married Sara Dylan (born Sara Lowndes). Nearly killed in a motorcycle accident 29 July 1966, he withdrew for a time of introspection. After more hard rock performances, his next albums were mostly country. With his career wandering (and critics condemning the fact), Sam Peckinpah asked him to compose the score for, and appear in, his Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – more memorable as a soundtrack than a film. In 1974 he and The Band went on tour, releasing his first #1 album, “Planet Waves”. It was followed a year later by another first-place album, “Blood on the Tracks”. After several Rolling Thunder tours, the unsuccessful film Renaldo and Clara (1978) and a divorce, he stunned the music world again by his release of the fundamentalist Christrian album “Slow Train Coming,” a cut from which won him his first Grammy. Many tours and albums later, on the eve of a European tour May 1997, he was stricken with histoplasmosis (a possibly fatal infection of the heart sac); he recovered and appeared in Bologna that September at the request of the Pope. In December he received the Kennedy Center Award for artistic excellence.

All works, no matter what or by whom painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles… unless they are made and painted from life, and there can be nothing… better than to follow nature.”

September 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, usually just known as Caravaggio, (28 September 1571 – 18 July 1610) was an Italian artist active in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. He is considered the first great representative of the Baroque school of painting.

Even in his own lifetime Caravaggio was considered enigmatic, fascinating, rebellious and dangerous. He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600, and thereafter never lacked for commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success atrociously. An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle some three years previously, tells how “after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.”[1] In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. In Malta in 1608 he was involved in another brawl, and yet another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. By the next year, after a relatively brief career, he was dead.

Huge new churches and palazzi were being built in Rome in the decades of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, and paintings were needed to fill them. The Counter-Reformation Church searched for authentic religious art with which to counter the threat of Protestantism, and for this task the artificial conventions of Mannerism, which had ruled art for almost a century, no longer seemed adequate. Caravaggio’s novelty was a radical naturalism which combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, approach to chiaroscuro, the use of light and shadow.

Famous and extremely influential while he lived, Caravaggio was almost entirely forgotten in the centuries after his death, and it was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. Yet despite this his influence on the new Baroque style which eventually emerged from the ruins of Mannerism, was profound. Andre Berne-Joffroy, Paul Valéry’s secretary, said of him: “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”[2] And in the years following his death, he was more imitated by other artists than any other master for whom we have record as documented by the art historian Benedict Nicolson. Caravaggio’s influence can be seen directly or indirectly to Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, and Rembrandt. Artists in the following generation heavily under the influence of Caravaggio are referred to as the “Caravaggisti”, “Caravagesques”, and also as Tenebrists or “Tenebrosi”.

As an artist I’d choose the thing that’s beautiful more than the one that’s true.

September 27, 2008

Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson (born Laura Phillips Anderson, on June 5, 1947, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) is an American experimental performance artist and musician who plays violin and keyboards and sings in a variety of experimental music and art rock styles. Initially trained as a sculptor, Anderson did her first performance-art piece in the late 1960s. Throughout the 1970s, Anderson did a variety of different performance-art activities. She became widely known outside the art world in 1981 when her single “O Superman” reached number two on the UK pop charts. She also starred in and directed the 1986 concert film Home of the Brave.

She has also invented several devices that she has used in her recordings and performance art shows. In 1977, she created a tape-bow violin that uses recorded magnetic tape on the bow instead of horsehair and a magnetic tape head in the bridge. In the late 1990s, she developed a talking stick, a six-foot-long batonlike MIDI controller that can access and replicate different sounds.

On April 12, 2008 Laurie Anderson married longtime companion Lou Reed in a private ceremony in Boulder, Colorado.

With the brush we merely tint, while the imagination alone produces colour.

September 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Theodore Gericault

Birth Year : 1791
Death Year : 1824
Country : France

Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault, whose life and career epitomize Romanticism, was born in Rouen, France but went to school in Paris. He was a classmate of Delacroix both in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at the Beaux-Arts where he studied with Vernet and Guerin. A realist throughout his career, Géricault’s earliest works were sculptural drawings in the manner of Michelangelo, whose work he studied when he fled to Italy after an unhappy love affair. He did not stay long in Italy (where he met Ingres, whose drawings he admired) but rushed back to Paris and in 1812 submitted a baroque painting, “Officer of the Imperial Guard”, to the official salon. A striking work showing an officer on a plunging horse in a smoky atmosphere of fire and flame, the painting was a very original synthesis of Venetian color, Rubens-like movement, and lighting that recalls Caravaggio. Yet it was none of these, but rather an expression of the artist’s own passionate temperament that made the most significant impression at he salon.

Two years later he showed a similar work, the “Wounded Cuirassier”, after which he joined the Bourbon Musketeers with whom he fought as a cavalry officer for the restoration of the French royal house. In 1819 he showed the last of his three masterpieces, “The Raft of the Medusa” a study for which Géricault, in his passion for realism, spent weeks studying the dead and dying in morgues and hospitals. The work had political overtones indicative of the artist’s romantic and humanitarian tendencies as well as his indignation at misgovernment in France. The French government disapproved of the painting, so Géricault took it through England on what would become a triumphant tour. He remained abroad for three years, living elegantly and filling his notebooks with drawings of horses. Horses were his passion. Ironically, it was the neglect of injuries caused by a fall from one was to cause his long, paralyzing illness and premature death at the age of thirty-two. Géricault’s masterpieces (energetic, powerful, brilliantly colored, and tightly composed) stand to represent not only his own genius, but also the spirit of the Romantic era as a whole, and they bear within them the seed of the Realistic movement that was to follow. Such a combination made him extremely influential upon the generation of artists that succeeded him; most notably upon Delacroix, who was slightly younger and of an equally fiery temperament.

I think it’s pretentious to create art just for the sake of stroking the artists ego.

September 25, 2008

Lou Reed

Lewis Allan Reed (born March 2, 1942) is an American rock singer-songwriter and guitarist. He first came to prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground (1965-1973). The band gained little mainstream attention during their career, but in hindsight became one of the most influential of their era. As the Velvets’ principal songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects of personal experience that rarely had been examined in rock and roll, including bondage and S&M (“Venus in Furs”), transvestites (“Sister Ray” and “Candy Says”), drug culture (“Heroin” and “I’m Waiting for the Man”), and transsexuals undergoing surgery (“Lady Godiva’s Operation”). As a guitarist, he was a pioneer in the use of distortion, high volume feedback, and nonstandard tunings.

Reed began a long and eclectic solo career in 1971. He had a hit the following year with “Walk on the Wild Side”, though for more than a decade Reed seemed to willfully evade the mainstream commercial success its chart status offered him. One of rock’s most volatile personalities, Reed’s work as a solo artist has frustrated critics wishing for a return of The Velvet Underground. The most notable example is 1975’s infamous double LP of recorded feedback loops, Metal Machine Music, upon which Reed later commented: “No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive.” By the late 1980s, however, Reed had won wide recognition as an elder statesman of rock.

I tell my stories by marking pictures.

September 24, 2008

Clementine Hunter

Clementine Hunter (December 4, 1886/1887 – January 1, 1988) was born around 1886 at Hidden Hill plantation, near Cloutierville, Louisiana. Clementine’s first husband, Charlie Dupree, died in 1914 and she married Emmanuel Hunter in 1924. The two worked at Melrose Plantation in Northwest Louisiana for many years. Melrose Plantation, under the guidance of Cammie Henry, became a Mecca for the arts and numerous artists and writers routinely visited. Noted New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey left some discarded tubes of paints after a visit in 1939 and Clementine used these discarded paints to “mark a picture,” thus beginning her career. Hunter gained support from numerous people associated with Melrose Plantation including François Mignon and James Register. She was the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) and achieved a significant amount of success during her lifetime, including an invitation to the White House by President Jimmy Carter, and an honorary doctorate bestowed by Northwestern State University. Hunter died on January 1, 1988.
Hunter has become one of the most well known self-taught artists, often referred to as the Black Grandma Moses. She is generally credited as being a social historian capturing portrayals of various scenes of a dying plantation life, including picking cotton, gathering pecans, washing clothes, baptisms and funeral scenes. Hunter was noted for painting on any materials, particularly discarded items such as window shades, cardboard boxes, jugs, bottles, and gourds. Her paintings rarely run larger than 18 by 24 inches and her work has generally been considered uneven, with her work from the 1940s to 1960 considered to be the best.

It is very hard for historians to sort out myth from fact in the stories and legends that surround her life. Though she became a hugely respected artist and is today considered a folk art legend, Hunter spent her entire life in (or near) poverty. It is said that she never truly grasped the worth of her own artwork, and would often sell paintings from her later-life for a few hundred dollars.

One of the more well-known displays of Hunter’s artwork is located in a slave’s quarters (referred to as an “African House”) on the grounds of Melrose Plantation. The entirety of the walls are covered in a mural Hunter painted in 1955; it depicts scenes of Cane River plantation life. Upon it’s original completion a local newspaper ran the headline: “A 20th Century Woman of Color Finishes a Story Begun 200 Years Ago by an 18th Century Congo-Born Slave Girl, Marie-Therese, the original grantee of Melrose Plantation.”reference

Hunter co-authored “Melrose Plantation Cookbook” with Francois Mignon.

I have always wanted my colours to sing.

September 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Paul Delvaux

Photo Institut Jules-Destrée (Droits SOFAM) - Paul DelvauxPaul Delvaux was born on September 23, 1897, in Antheit, Belgium. At the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels he studied architecture from 1916 to 1917 and decorative painting from 1918 to 1919. During the early 1920s he was influenced by James Ensor and Gustave De Smet. In 1936 Delvaux shared an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels with René Magritte, a fellow member of the Belgian group Les Compagnons de l’Art.

Delvaux was given solo exhibitions in 1938 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, and the London Gallery, the latter organized by E. L. T. Mesens and Roland Penrose. That same year he participated in the Exposition internationale du surréalisme at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, organized by André Breton and Paul Eluard, and an exhibition of the same title at the Galerie Robert in Amsterdam. The artist visited Italy in 1938 and 1939. His first retrospective was held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1944–45. Delvaux executed stage designs for Jean Genet’s Adame Miroire in 1947 and collaborated with Eluard on the book Poèmes, peintures et dessins, published in Geneva and Paris the next year. After a brief sojourn in France in 1949, the following year he was appointed professor at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art et d’Architecture in Brussels, a position he retained until 1962. From the early 1950s he executed a number of mural commissions in Belgium. About the middle of the decade Delvaux settled in Boitsfort, and in 1956 he traveled to Greece.

From 1965 to 1966 Delvaux served as president and director of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts of Belgium, and about this time he produced his first lithographs. Retrospectives of his work were held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille in 1965, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1969, and at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1973. Also in 1973 he was awarded the Rembrandt Prize of the Johann Wolfgang Stiftung. A Delvaux retrospective was shown at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the National Museum of Modern Art of Kyoto in 1975. In 1977 he became an associate member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of France.

Delvaux died in Veurne, Belgium, on July 20, 1994.

Imagination has always had powers of resurrection that no science can match

September 22, 2008

Ingrid Bengis

Ingrid Bengis, born in 1944 in New York, is a writer best known for her pioneering collection of essays on love, hate and sexuality, COMBAT IN THE EROGENOUS ZONE, (Knopf 1972), which was critically acclaimed and nominated for a National Book Award. “The New York Times Book Review” said, “It must be read and it must be taken seriously if human sexuality is ever going to live up to its notices” while “Newsweek” called it “a remarkable book…that has probably moved both women and men on a deeper level than any other document of the new feminism”. It was reissued in 1990 after Martin Duberman, writing in “The Village Voice” asked, “Where is this astonishing writer? Why has she dropped from sight”. The reissue by Harper Collins included a new introduction by Duberman, in which he wrote, “(Bengis) was only twenty eight when the book was published, but had lived so intensely and could describe her experiences so freshly…that her ruminations about love, hate and sex struck many of us who were older than she as astonishingly vivid and wise. Nearly twenty years later, they still do.” Among the most frequently cited quotes from the book are “Imagination has always had powers of resurrection that no science can match” and “For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change”, quoted by Barack Obama in one of his 2008 campaign speeches.

In 2003, Farrar Strauss & Giroux, North Point Press published Bengis’ book “METRO STOP DOSTOEVSKY: Travels in Russian Time” which takes place in Russia between 1990-1996 . Naiively in love with Russia and Russian literature, she settled in St. Petersburg in 1990 as the Soviet Union was collapsing, and quickly became immersed in “catastroika”, a period of immense turmoil that mirrored her own increasingly complex and contradictory experience. Her friendship with a Russian woman whose marriage is also falling apart, reflects the social tumult, as well as the sometimes dangerous consequences, of American good intentions. It was hailed by Kurt Vonnegut as “the most sane and intelligent book anyone could possibly write about what it is like to be an American or a Russian at the start of the new millennium,” and Norman Mailer said “There is so much to praise about METRO STOP DOSTOEVSKY that I will content myself with but one remark. I read it all in something approaching whole pleasure, and how often can we make such a claim?”

She is also the author of a novel, I HAVE COME HERE TO BE ALONE, Simon and Schuster, 1977 and a contributor to many magazines and journals. Her work has been translated into six languages, most recently Russian, where her essay “Home: Variations on a Theme” appeared in the highly respected literary magazine Zvezda. She usually lives in Stonington, Maine, but also teaches twentieth century American literature at the State University of St. Petersburg, in St. Petersburg, Russia (where Pushkin and Putin both studied), is married to a Russian ballet dancer and has one daughter and one stepson.

As an artist you’re looking for universal triggers. You want it both ways. You want it to have an immediate impact, and you want it to have deep meanings as well. I’m striving for both. But I hate it when people write things that sound like they’ve swallowed a fucking dictionary.

September 21, 2008

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst was born in Bristol in 1965. He grew up in Leeds with his mother, Mary Brennan, and his stepfather. He took a foundation course at Leeds School of Art before applying for college. He was rejected by St. Martin’s but moved to London in 1986 when he was accepted onto the BA Fine Art course at Goldsmiths College, graduating in 1989. While still a student in 1988, Damien conceived, organised and promoted “Freeze”, an exhibition held in a Docklands warehouse. The show featured several of Damien’s pieces, and work by 16 of his fellow Goldsmith’s’ students.

This amazingly successful self-promoted exhibition is widely believed to have been the starting point for the “Young British Artists” movement. After seeing Damien’s work at the show, Charles Saatchi (ex Thatcher ad-man), began to collect his work and exhibited it in the first “Charles Saatchi’s Young British Artists” show. In 1990, Saatchi bought Damien’s A Thousand Years. Since then, he has produced a body of work that, admired from the start by collectors and curators, has also proved extraordinarily provocative. In 1992, he commissioned the piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living for about US$32,000. He has organised a succession of exhibitions that have helped to define a generation.

Damien’s generation is one completely different from previous generations of artist. The Young British Artists are characterised by their independence, their entrepreneurial spirit, and their media savvy. Most promote their own shows, and are financed privately instead of by the Department of National Heritage establishment. This way, they needn’t worry about being “discovered” by the conservative governmental agencies, and instead tend to draw in private patrons, like Saatchi.

The central, though not exclusive theme of Hirst’s work has been an exploration of mortality, a traditional subject that Hirst has updated and extended with wit, verve, originality and force. He is best known for a series of works (The Natural History series) in which dead animals are presented as memento mori in forms ironically appropriated from the museum of natural history rather than of art. Their titles suggest a range of readings and reveal the thoughtfulness of his approach. The artwork itself has a visual power that is virtually unmatched by any possible description of it. One cannot really hope to understand it, or even visualise it without experiencing it firsthand. This, many people believe, is the reason Damien was short listed for the Turner Prize in 1992.

Even his own supporters do not always acclaim his work. The popularity of Hirst’s unique brand of artistic statement tends to cycle in phases of favour and disdain. In April 1993, Hirst’s God sold at the highest price of any of his pieces to date: 188,500 pounds. In October 1993, however, his exhibit Alone Yet Together, which consisted of a cabinet holding 100 fish suspended in small tanks of formaldehyde, was set to auction for nearly 150,000 pounds. The bidding closed at only 85,000, and failed to sell. His piece entitled Loss of Memory is Worse Than Death (a steel cage encasing several vitrines which contained a surgical mask, gloves, and a syringe) also failed to sell, closing at 55,000 pounds (less than half of the maximum expected bid).

Damien blames this occasional lack of success not on the public, but on the press. He says that the media convinces the public to believe the art critics’ erroneous assumptions about art, so the public accepts these opinions without ever actually viewing the art. In this manner, the public is alienated from an art world that they could find very enjoyable if they gave it a fair chance. Many people who agree with this idea also believe that the art critics themselves are influenced in their opinions by the media. They go in to review a work of art with a preconceived opinion, and do not allow the art to affect them the way it should. By distancing themselves from the art, they are cheating themselves of the full experience.

Some members of the media argue this point, saying that the art is not accessible to the public, that they cannot understand it without an art degree. Damien argues that the public has the ability to understand and appreciate art because of their extensive visual background knowledge. People view complicated visual structures in advertising and understand it, and art is merely another form of those visual structures. He claims that if people were to attend art shows as frequently as they see films and advertisements, they would understand the art. He believes, “the same visual intelligence and visual language are used to understand films, advertising, and art”.

Even so, Damien constantly has to explain his work. Besides the controversial animal exhibits, there are sculptures, spot paintings and spin paintings. Damien now insists that when the spin paintings are displayed, they are equipped with a mechanism that makes them revolve on the wall because he was tired of people asking which way was up. The spot paintings have become somewhat of an icon of Damien’s work. They have become so recognisable as Damien’s theme that he actually brought suit against British Airways in 1999 for an advertisement campaign for their low-cost airline, Go, which used the motif. In that same year, Damien was asked to create a special spot painting to send into space for the Beagle II mission to Mars in 2003.

There are also many recurring themes in Damien’s work. One such theme is cigarettes – see his piece Party Time as an example. He views the act of smoking as a microcosm within itself: “The cigarette packet is possible lives, the cigarette it’s own actual life, the lighter is God because it gives fuel to the whole thing and the ashtray is a graveyard, it’s like death”. Damien is also fascinated by the fact that smoking is a “theoretical suicide” in the sense that it is not deliberate self-inflicted death, but people know it will kill them and they continue to partake. He stated that “the concept of a slow suicide through smoking is a really great idea, a powerful thing to do”.

Another consistent theme in Damien’s work is medical paraphernalia, (with which he has been obsessed for many years). The inspiration for his pharmacy pieces was the desire to make art that people really believe in, like they do medicine. “Pharmacies provoke an idea of confidence, of trust in minimalism. I love medical logos, so minimal, so clean, there’s something dumb about it”. His pieces like Substitute, Holidays/No Feelings and God are meant to parody the Western notion that medicine and chemicals can help a person to cheat death. “You can only cure people for so long and then they’re going to die anyway… You can’t arrest decay, but these works suggest you can”.

Damien’s works relating to empty, confined spaces “draw their power entirely from the narrative instincts of the viewer”. One sees a tiny cage-like enclosure, confined by glass, with a desk, chair, and other objects that are normally meant for human interaction (see He Tried to Internalise Everything and The Acquired Inability to Escape). And then one notices the emptiness – the lack of human presence in this familiar scene. “It is almost impossible to avoid mentally inhabiting it. This transforms the viewer’s function from that of an exploratory intelligence, to that of a rather doubtful collaborator (or victim). This is work which asks to be experienced, not solved.” The fact that they are encased in glass allows the viewer to interact with the art, but it is a frustrating interaction. “The intellect is still engaged, but it is an intellect involved in an anxious body, viscerally conscious.”

Damien says, “I really love glass, a substance which is very solid, is dangerous, but transparent. That idea of being able to see everything but not able to touch, solid but invisible. The slits in the glass are very important to the works, you need some sort of access”. In pieces where the glass structures enclose, say, a rotting animal carcass (A Thousand Years), that access can be a bit much for some viewers, as the smell is sometimes overpowering, but it is a major part of the experience of the works. The smell draws the viewer in undeniably, they experience the piece and are not allowed to distinguish themselves as mere observers. This is part of what makes many of Damien’s works so engaging and frightening.

Many of Damien’s animal works are unlike A Thousand Years in that they are not supposed to go through any more natural processes. In fact, he goes through an immense amount of trouble to completely preserve them in formaldehyde. Many have questioned Damien about whether he is bothered by the possibility that corpses will eventually rot anyway. He replies that he is not concerned because he claims that the idea is more important than the actual piece. As long as they last until the end of his own lifetime, he doesn’t care what happens to them after.

Damien’s “Natural History” series, the works involving the animals preserved in formaldehyde, are probably his most famous, and definitely his most controversial. But his own attitude towards the animals is emotionally distant. They are “so deadened by their transparent aqua tombs that it becomes difficult to reconcile what they look like with the reality of what they really are. In this respect, they are as distant from cows or pigs as the filling of a Big Mac or BLT”. One such example is Mother and Child, Divided, a piece from his exhibition “Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away” for which he was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995. Damien says, “I want to make people feel like burgers. I chose a cow because it was banal. It’s just nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. What is the difference between a cow and a burger? Not a lot… I want people to look at cows and feel ‘Oh my god’, so then in turn, it makes them feel like burgers.”

His emotional distance from the animals also allows him to make his work sometimes sickeningly funny. In This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home, each half of a bisected pig in tanks of formaldehyde, slide past one another on an automated track, separating and putting themselves back to together over and over again. He says, “I hope that it makes people think about things that they take for granted. Like smoking, like sex, like love, like life, like advertising, like death… I want to make people frightened of what they know. I want to make them question.” He achieves this by incorporating common objects into his work. “Ordinary things are frightening. It’s like, a shoe is intended to get you from one place to another. The moment you beat your girlfriend’s head in with it, it becomes something insane. The change of function is what’s frightening… That’s what art is.”

Not everyone, though, is so emotionally distant from the animals in Damien’s art. Many people either can’t stomach it, or have some moral objection to it. Damien has received many letters of protest, and even some threats. While the negative reaction to his work is perhaps understandable, it is not necessarily warranted, as the animals he uses are purchased from slaughterhouses, and many have died of natural causes. Damien himself is actually sympathetic to the animals, taking something purely banal, and pointing out the reality of its existence. “I hope [the viewers] feel sorry for the cows”.

However, it’s not just the objectors who cause problems for Damien. In 1994, he had an extreme amount of trouble getting his art into the United States to exhibit it. The first piece was delayed at US Customs until it was established that the animals were considered art and not food. Then a piece that was to be displayed in New York City was banned by the Health Department because they were concerned about the “odors and fluids created by the rotting process”. And finally, the US Department of Agriculture banned a piece from another New York show because of the temporary ban on British beef. Damien explained: “They were worried that if someone ate it, there was no evidence that the formaldehyde would kill BSE (mad cow disease). I told them that nobody’s going to eat it but they said that’s not the point. I told them that if anyone ate it, the formaldehyde would kill them anyway, but they said that’s not the point either”. After two days, Damien convinced them that this piece was also to be considered art, and not food.

In August of 1995, another New York gallery banned Damien’s Two Fucking, Two Watching, which involves a dead cow and bull copulating by means of a hydraulic device. The piece was not preserved in formaldehyde, but rather was left to rot away. New York health officials were concerned that it might “explode” (if it were sealed shut, the methane gasses would build up and shatter the glass), or “prompt vomiting among the visitors” (if it were not sealed shut, as the odor from the rotting carcasses would be “overwhelming”). So Damien brought in a new piece, which was preserved and would have none of these problems. “The new cow piece replaces the one I really wanted to do, the dead cows fucking, without formaldehyde. We called up the environmental department and told them what we’d have: rotting animals, but with filters to clean the air. They said ‘if you do that we’ll shut you down'”.

He faced a vaguely similar situation in 1999 when there was a mass of controversy over the “Sensation” exhibition when it arrived in Brooklyn, New York. Though there was a small bit of protest over Damien’s work in the show by PETA, it was overshadowed by the uproar concerning a painting by fellow YBA Chris Ofili. Mayor Giuliani attempted to ban the painting and eventually to shut down the show entirely, but ultimately the only effect of his protests was an extraordinary amount of publicity for the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the show went on as planned.

In the same year, Damien’s art-installation-turned-restaurant, Pharmacy, which he had set up with PR legend Matthew Freud, became simply an installation for an exhibition at the Tate Gallery. This was followed very shortly by the sale of the restaurant to The Montana Group after plans fell through to expand the fine dining venue into a chain of smaller fast food joints.

The Pharmacy restaurant is just a glimpse of Damien’s interest in art beyond the conventional media. His work encompasses all media – paintings, sculptures, video, and everything in between. And he has a steadily growing interest in pop music. He has designed cover art for albums by the Eurythmics, and in 1995 he directed a music video for the Blur song “Country House.” He was part of an art and film exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1996, where he showcased his first short film called “Hanging Around”. The film featured music by several of his pop star friends from London.

In 1998, Damien himself became involved in a pop group, Fat Les, who recorded two singles that year, appeared at Glastonbury (but didn’t perform), and who were accepted to participate in the Music Industry Soccer Six of 1999. There were plans for a Fat Les feature film in 2000, with their first full-length album as the soundtrack, but due to the tremendous flop of their World Cup single, those plans fell through. Damien co-owned the record label, Turtleneck, with actor and friend Keith Allen.

Since even before the inception of Fat Les, Damien has worked on several “side projects” with Keith Allen. In 2002 alone, Damien designed the sets for Glastonbury, a play about the Glastonbury music festival, and designed and directed Breath, the 30-45 second film version of Samuel Beckett’s 1969 short. Keith Allen stars in both.

Damien’s work has been exhibited widely, in Britain, Korea, the USA, Australia, and countries all over Europe. His work is included in many private collections (most are owned by Charles Saatchi), and in quite a few permanent collections at public museums and galleries. He is represented by London’s White Cube, and shows regularly there. He now lives in Devon with his sons Connor (b.1995) and Cassius (b.2000) and girlfriend Maia Norman. He works at his home and in London.