Byline: BRIAN SEWELL
DAMIEN Hirst has written a book, Gambler - though written may not be quite the word for unguarded gossip with a man accustomed to transcribing drivel from a tape recorder. Damien, as everybody knows, is the wild boy of Brit Art who, in little more than a decade, has risen from the art student who almost failed his course at Goldsmiths College, to become a household name.
He it was who put a shark in a tank of formaldehyde and sold it to Charles Saatchi, and then a shoal of smaller fish, sheep, pigs, cows and calves. He it was who symbolised the human condition with a flayed cow's head, bluebottles and a gadget to electrocute them, the breeding, feeding, dying business of us all. He it was who painted perfectly round spots of colour on plain white canvases, and when fools bought them, painted more and more, eventually employing assistants to keep up with the demand. He has been known, inspired by the spirit of Monet, to sit naked under a tree in the south of France and paint a conventional landscape - but that was too much like hard work and has never been repeated.
Now notorious and rich, he has long been the darling of Nicholas Serota and Charles Saatchi, and has the blind support of the Arts and British Councils through which, together with the Tate Gallery, serious sums of public money have been applied to his promotion.
A sometime juvenile delinquent, tearaway and former shoplifter, drudge on a building site, fashion model, film-director, cod-philosopher, restaurateur and rival of Jonathan Miller as the nation's favourite polymath, as well as painter and sculptor, he is the product of an art world that requires nothing of the artist other than the need and the ability (in that order) to express his personality with the energy of an actor in performance on the stage.
This, for a decade, he has done, and just as Tracey Emin, his early close associate, is celebrated for her stained and rumpled bed, so Damien is famous as a wild and heavy drinker, nocturnal clubman, manabout-town in the stews of London and Berlin, as an unremitting self-publicist and as an outrageous prankster deliberately challenging an indulgent liberal establishment. There can be no doubt that Hirst's public way of life has been intended to affront and yet, as an artist, he has occasionally displayed a formidable, if wayward intelligence, a terrible, even a disgusting curiosity. In a suite of works shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1991, he confronted us with nightmare fears and in the profound pessimism of his images, instruments of torture and medical survival shared cold hygienic kinship.
WAS it an intelligent move to collaborate in the production of this book? If the reader's expectation is of some dry intellectual self-examination that illuminates Hirst's aesthetic drive, he will be disappointed; if he expects scandalous revelation, gossip and backbiting, he may be better pleased. The populace at large will be delighted to learn that a woman is suing Hirst for $50,000 because she saw him in a Dublin bar last year, stripped to the buff, stuffing a chicken bone into his foreskin. …