Why is Damien Hirst rich

Scandal artist: Are you getting old, Damien Hirst?

The British artist no longer decorates skulls with diamonds and no longer puts sharks in formaldehyde - he is painting again. At the opening of his retrospective "Requiem" he told the "Presse" why.

What were you thinking when you named your Kiev retrospective “Requiem”?

Damien Hirst: Museums are places for dead artists in my opinion, so I named the show “Requiem”. To show that I am alive, I also present my latest work here. With painting I am breaking completely new ground.

They became famous with butterflies, ponies inlaid in formaldehyde and tiger sharks and, last but not least, with a diamond-studded skull. Now show brushstrokes on a Prussian blue background. Are you curious to see the audience's reaction?

In all seriousness: I don't care what people, be it critics or audiences, say about my work. Whenever I did something new, it was rejected at the beginning, and only when people approached Burner like “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” or things from the “Lullaby "Series, they accepted it as art.

Why did you choose painting as a fresh start?

I have only started painting again in the past three years. Since the age of 15 and my experiences with Francis Bacon's work at that time, I have not been able to make a brushstroke. I thought I couldn't put such expressiveness in my pictures as Bacon. He's still the artist who fascinates me the most.

Why has painting become such a defining theme for you? Perhaps because oil paintings last longer than inlaid animal bodies and can still be sold in 300 years?

(Laughs) I like working on the canvas. While the paint dried, I had plenty of time to think. The white alone takes a week before you can continue working. As a result, life slowed down in a very pleasant way. I became much calmer. I love standing in front of a blank canvas and starting over, it really is like reincarnation every time.

Why did you choose Kiev for your “Requiem”?

I will surprise many with my new work. Most of the audience doesn't expect them from me. The Kiev audience, however, will probably look at the whole thing much more impartially and not compare the old and new things with each other and extrapolate what is worth more. The people here have a different eye for art, they experience it all a lot more with their hearts.

Will you sell the new work in the spectacular and profitable way you are used to?

I basically sell all of my things. Where is the problem? In November 2009 there will be a large exhibition of all of my new paintings in the “White Cube Gallery” in London. The only question is whether I can get rid of the works too.

Last December, you said that the time of wild parties and nightlife is over for you. Are you no longer the bad boy of the art scene - are you getting old?

The change in my work is also an expression of my changed lifestyle. I am now over forty years old, have three children, and I no longer drink alcohol. I noticed that I didn't have unlimited time left. Most of all, I am afraid of the end. I am becoming more and more careful. Even a guy like me who is relatively secure and has money and success will achieve this one day - if not completely unnoticed.

How did the connection to Viktor Pinchuk, in whose private museum you are exhibiting here in Kiev, actually come about? In the meantime you are evidently so close that you are opening hospitals together with the Ukrainian oligarch.

Viktor Pinchuk is one of my most important collectors. Every artist needs people like him who have the money and the passion for art - permanently. I have no problem with charity events, on the contrary. I haven't forgotten where I'm from. When I was young I had no money at all, it was friends who gave me the means for my first work. It is important not to forget the others, even in times of crisis like this.

Why is your major work - the £ 50 million diamond skull - not on display?

For “For the Love of God” we are currently looking for a suitable location to exhibit it permanently in London. We cannot keep moving the work back and forth, also because of the many requirements of our insurance.

Do you think it is reasonable to pay prices in the double or triple-digit million range for such works of art?

That is the question of what art is or may be worth. I think artists should also be paid like rock stars or athletes. There are also enough works of art that have fetched much higher prices, especially things by Picasso, van Gogh or Goya. But the skull alone has a much higher material value than all the canvases. Why should you pay less for contemporary art than for pictures that are 50, 100, 200 years old?

What does an artist have to bring to the table in order to be successful? Not only the young people in Eastern Europe will ask themselves: Damien Hirst got so rich with art, why not give it a try myself?

The most important thing is to believe in yourself and to go through with all the things that exist in your imagination. But that was no different in van Gogh's time. You just have to decide for yourself what you want and what you do.

("Die Presse", print edition, May 3, 2009)