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
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker