Damien Hirst is a Good Painter

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First published in The Other Muswell Hill Stuckist newspaper, December 2012.

Charles Thomson (Stuckism co-founder) and Edgeworth Johnstone (of The Other Muswell Hill Stuckists) discuss Damien Hirsts paintings.

EJ: I know a lot of people have made a big deal of Damien Hirst really making a complete mess of Francis Bacon, which I don’t think is fair, but…

CT: No, well we didn’t agree with that did we? We thought actually he had done something quite worthwhile.

EJ: Yeah, I thought Damien Hirst’s show was good. I went to two of them, I didn’t go to the recent one but the No Love Lost show, I thought was brilliant, and downstairs at the St. James’s White Cube where they had more colourful, probably even more Francis Baconey…I thought they were amazing paintings, what he did.

CT: I talked to Edward Lucie-Smith about that, and he’s totally in agreement. He thinks they’re good. He thinks it’s ridiculous that… and I said to him that this is fashion, isn’t it? Aren’t the critics looking at it? Can’t they see that he’s using colour rather well. They’re picking up on ridiculous things, saying ‘Oh, he’s got a fetus in there. How shocking’. But when you look at the painting, that’s not what comes across at all. If he wanted to make it shocking, he would have done it very differently. It’s like, no, this is part of a composition, part of something. It’s not the whole thing. It’s not like flinging a shark in a tank, in your face. It’s not done like that at all. I mean, he’s a good painter.

EJ: And I think he paints like someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Because if I was Damien Hirst, and I was doing a painting that was so obviously like a Bacon, I wouldn’t do that at all if I was worried what the critics would say. I think he must have known he was going to get slated before he put it out, and I like that fact that he still did it. And he still did it as obvious as he wanted it to be.

CT: You say it’s like a Bacon, but noone would ever think it was a Bacon.

EJ: No you wouldn’t, but you would know that he had seen Bacon from those paintings, I think.

CT: But that happens throughout art, throughout art history. In the Renaissance there’ s a whole era that’s based on previous work, on Greek work, for example. I mean, you look at anything in the Renaissance and you would have known that they had seen Greek work before, Medieval work. Whatever you look at. Look at the Fauves, for example, Vlaminck. You know he’s seen Van Gogh, You know Kirchner has seen Van Gogh with his early work, because they’re all painting with these squiggly lines. But that doesn’t disallow their work, or invalidate it because they’re doing something else. And Hirst in the Wallace Collection show was obviously doing something else. In fact, if I had the choice, I would go for Hirst because I think he’s got more depth. I think Francis Bacon is a real showman, and basically his paintings of futility, nihilism and sadism, which doesn’t give humanity very much. And I think what we see with Hirst is paintings on a spiritual quest.

EJ: I wonder if it’s the same thing, with what they’re doing to Hirst. Because Miro, his show was slated for being…they said he had misunderstood Fauvism, or he had misunderstood one other movement, I can’t remember what it was.

CT: Was this the recent show?

EJ: No, this was when Miro was young, and he put some work out that was clearly referencing Surrealism and Cubism, they said Miro has misunderstood Cubism. And I think they’re doing the same with Hirst now. And I’m wondering if years down the line, Hirst is going to be vindicated, like Miro’s been vindicated.

CT: Probably. Like the Stuckists will be vindicated.

EJ: Yeah.

CT: Rachel Campbell-Johnston, the arts critic at The Times turned up to the Spectrum, London gallery, and the gallery Director said that she had made up her mind before she had even looked at the work. And then she wrote about it in a very superficial way, saying that what the Stuckists do is they find some artist in art history, and do some kind of cartoon version of it. Which is absolute nonsense. And also, if that’s a flaw, what about all the other artists through history who have done versions of somebody elses work, and got ideas from other people. So I didn’t really think very much of that at all. I think it’s political, people have to turn against the Stuckists. If we had had a different attitude, if we had kowtowed for the establishment, we would be real hits by now.

EJ: Exactly, I don’t know why they assume our motivations are anything other that what they are at face value. I mean, why else would you paint paintings like the Stuckists do. It’s obviously not to make money because, they don’t make money. It’s obviously not to be liked, because nobody likes them. I mean, we have to be genuine, because there’s no other reason why we would do it, and put ourselves out there knowing we’re going to get so much…

CT: I think the negative response is ‘Genuine, but stupid.’

EJ: It’s probably the first thing they think.

CT: Or ‘Genuine, but or completely untalented.’ or ‘Genuine, but missing the boat.’ Mind you, you could have said the same about every art movement in Modernism.

EJ: Exactly, if we had someone like Saatchi showing us they wouldn’t say that. It’s like Picasso’s first show, they said it’s sloppy, it’s uneven, it’s all rubbish. But then as soon as Picasso gets picked up by a good dealer, they’re raving about his work from the next show, because it’s got this big dealers name behind it. But do anything on your own feet, or do anything in an environment they’re not comfortable with, like Hirst putting his own work, that he done himself in the Wallace Collection. I mean, do something on your own that’ s different, I don’t think they’ll see any value in it. They’ll just see the first thing that they can see, and that’s something negative.

CT: It’s quite extraordinary that this really quite superficial, empty work gets rated very highly by the critics, but when he does something with more depth, emotion and conviction it gets completely trashed. 

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