Death, passion and contradiction, by Bowie and Hirst

David Bowie interviews Damien Hirst. The meeting of two cultural icons, who can perplex and infuriate just as they can provoke and inspire, provides intriguing insights into the mind of Britain's most controversial contemporary artist, writes David Lister. Faced with a superstar as committed to multimedia experimentation as he is, Hirst eschews his routine cynicism to give a rare exposition of the philosophy of the installation artist.

Next week Modern Painters, on whose editorial board David Bowie sits, carries the entire interview which took place in New York where Hirst is currently exhibiting. Below is a key extract.

David Bowie: The piece [the installation pictured above right] sounds extremely confrontational. Are you concerned at all about the puritan eyes through which some of your American viewers will be seeing?

Damien Hirst: Well, I suppose the work sounds incredibly gruesome when described, but I think you can talk it in, out and over, but never really visualise or get near to the physical experience of standing in front of something like this. However well it is described, the actuality is just something that you don't expect. You could read about it in the tabloids and it would sound sensational, but when you actually encounter it, there's something sad and very quiet, almost fragile and very beautiful about it.

It's very difficult. If you try to talk it up as being something gross and excessive, then it's almost like spiralling down through your own mortality or something. I mean, the fly pieces that I did a couple of years ago worked much in that way. They sounded quite disgusting but when you actually saw them, you underwent a considerable self-revelation. You couldn't look away but somehow you couldn't criticise.

Bowie: What seems to define your work as being so different from that of your peers is a far greater degree of personal passion. A strong resentment of the idea of death. It certainly strikes me as emotive, a reverberation of sorts, whereas in the work of your friends like Gavin Turk or Sarah Lucas say, the basis seems to be a no- nonsense cynicism, a dark ironic stance maybe. You seem to straddle two worlds - conceptualism and a rather more traditional self-expression. Something that smacks of an emotional life. Is that accurate?

Hirst: Yes I think it is. I mean I can't deny it. I think that at the end of the day,art is not only a visual language that communicates an idea. The ideas maybe don't change but the world certainly does. So then, does the context of that idea change?

However, something that really gets to me is that the work should be totally delicious visually and that you shouldn't necessarily have to work hard at intellectualising. It can just be something fundamentally expressionistic. Like Bonnard said, "I just love these colours."

Bowie: So, what's the title of your fabulous pieces with the butterflies embedded in the paint?

Hirst: In and Out of Love.

Bowie: Yes, In and Out of Love. Those pieces are as strongly aesthetic, as thoroughly beautiful, as they are broadcasters of ideas.

Hirst: I think they contain contradictions. I mean, they're beautiful as paintings I suspect, but if you look closely, the butterflies are stuck in the paint, so you ask yourself, did they get there by accident or is this a result of some evil little scientific experiment or is this merely a display of some kind? I find it beautiful. I also find it repulsive. Imagining oneself as the butterfly in question, it would be quite an awful thing.

Bowie: Does one have to have a social conscience as an artist?

Hirst: I have no social conscience when I'm working. It's out of my hands. The viewer may want to make that judgement. I'm not too concerned with interpretation. Neither can I allow myself to be bothered by taboo or even an idea of integrity. Integrity you either have or you don't.

Bowie: Which artists had an effect on you? Not necessarily their work but maybe their attitude towards their work.

Hirst: Some are obvious, I suppose. Like Bacon, like Soutine, Gericault, Dennis Potter. Anybody who dealt with the gruesome. Then I went through the Goldsmith's experience and made some strange connection with minimalism, and then the gallery became merely a piece of white paper, a situation for a visual experience.

For me it can be the contradic- tion between life and death, the body and existence. The body against a creative landscape, say ...

Bowie: Does the work you produce bounce from real life experience, or do you work until an idea begins to form, or is it a combination of both?

Hirst: A combination I should think. I'm always looking and playing. Living in a world of so many objects in so many juxtapositions, there are a million ideas. I will often be stopped by an everyday object placed in a frightening situation.

But then, sometimes I start with a visual sculpture. For a long time I've had the image of an umbrella in my head, from Bacon I guess, and I've been trying to thin of a way to use that in a very physical and horrific situation. A sort of three-dimensional Bacon.

Bowie: It seems that it's painters that stimulate you far more than sculptors.

Hirst: It's such a completely illusionary world. It's a kind of belief in the square. If you look at many of the paintings that I've done, there's always a sculptural approach. They're almost like a logo as an idea of myself as an artist. Some sort of sculptural consumerist idea.

Bowie: Product plus personality equals brand.

Hirst: Artwork plus artist equals art.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor