Art 'terrorist' is slightly sheepish about his motives

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The Independent Online
DAMIEN HIRST has his pick of the world's avant garde galleries to display his art; Mark Bridger has his parents' house outside Oxford.

Bridger, the man who was unknown to the art establishment until the age of 35, dramatically become its black sheep this year by pouring ink into one of Damien Hirst's dead animals in formaldehyde. On Wednesday he was found guilty of criminal damage, and to his relief, conditionally discharged with no fine or costs.

His largest work is boldly positioned, just inside the gate, and looks like a huge, turquoise, resin-covered wooden boat. ' I made it in Swansea and had it transported here. I don't know what to do with it now. It's like a cubist boat, with flat panels, designed to be easily built. . . it's part sculpture, part functional,' he explains.

The part-boat, 32ft long, and which has never seen water, is a relatively early Bridger, and is getting a bit tatty. It really needs curating. His parents were not overjoyed when it arrived in their newly built landscaped home in a woodland setting, where even the garage is hexagonal to match the shape of the house. Apparently a hexagon is the ideal shape for two cars and two motorbikes. Bridger's parents are both architects, while his brother sells shirts at Camden Market in London.

It is hard to discern a unified style in his prolific output, pictures on the walls of the open-plan hexagon, sculptures placed on display, paintings and drawings stacked and rolled in the loft, or downstairs in the basement.

There are abstract daubings, primitive representational canvases, small plaster sculptures which were recognisably humans, larger resin figures including a rather jolly, red, almost Humpty- Dumpty-like figure who guards the hallway. Another is a realistic bronze reclining nude man, although he likes to place a small wooden boat on its stomach to make it less conventional. The nearest thing to a Damien Hirst is Charlie, an eight-year-old Springer Spaniel, who was, in fact, the family pet and not a work of art at all.

Bridger, who is engagingly thoughtful and sincere, studied art for two years at Dartington College from the age of 23, after a period when like Hirst he had worked as a labourer on a building site. In sharp contrast to Hirst, Bridger is almost excessively modest, doubting not only the validity of his own art, but of art per se.

'I've had phases where I've done art, phases where I've stopped and done writing, because I've decided maybe it isn't a good idea to keep creating more objects which you tend to trip over.' He has written a couple of unpublished books, one a novel, one a theory of the universe.

The most he has ever been paid for a work is pounds 350, for a painting, which is dwarfed by the pounds 25,000 Hirst received for his dead sheep. Does he think pounds 25,000 is absurd?

'Money is not reality, it is not the value of life. Although it can change things, it doesn't change the value of existence,' he muses.

His objection to the dead sheep was not that it was shocking and strange, but that any work of art should claim so much attention.

'I'm slightly against the idea that people should be fascinated by particular images, and not by the general ephemeral visual nature of the world,' he says. 'It detracts from people's appreciation of the world if they are obsessed with particular images. I find it interesting how people become fascinated with certain art.'

He dislikes the way 'art' creates objects to be possessed. 'I suppose in the real world it's bound to get linked up with money,' he says. 'Then because it gets linked up with money you get this idea of critical pretence that has to go with it to justify differences between one art and another art. I believe all men are equal and in art there obviously isn't that equality.'

(Photograph omitted)

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