by Damien Hirst
I think Bacon is one of the greatest painters of all time. He’s up there with Goya, Soutine and Van Gogh: dirty painters who wrestle with the dark stuff. He’s complicated. It’s not essentially about formal skill or technique or dexterity. It’s about belief. I believe! And the struggle, the sense that you somehow grunt your way though it by sheer will. That’s what’s inspiring to me, alongside the sheer bravery of confronting the dark side, the shadows, the full force of the human psyche.
If you compare him to Lucien Freud, say, it’s obvious that Freud is the more technically accomplished painter. He can read what he sees, and render it. Bacon couldn’t do that. If you look at the feet in his paintings, they’re bloody awful. He can’t do boots.
But it’s so bloody powerful. His work always veers into the imagination. There’s always this raw, dark power, this visceral energy that is compelling. The paint is alive.
Great art comes from nowhere. In a way, I think Bacon said ‘fuck off’ to what went before. He didn’t go the traditional route that the great painters went. He didn’t have the patience to be like Velasquez or Ingres or whoever. He used to look to these guys, but he just didn’t have the patience to be like them and do what they did. He painted from photographs, he stuck bits of corduroy in there, bits of glass, whatever it took to get there.
He talked about the brutality of fact. It’s incredibly brave to take that on, to face up to the horror and stare it down. Over and over. I mean, I’ve made maybe four good pieces and the rest are, you know, sort of happy. He wasn’t like that. He was his own worst and best critic. He pushed himself to the edge every time. They give you the shivers, his best paintings. He looks into the room that no one wants to look in. He looks in the mirror and he sees meat. He shuns tenderness. He wants to sleep on a hard bed. I think he saw the brutality early on and he decided to take it on.
I saw him a few times in the Colony but I avoided him, because he was my hero. And I saw him be cruel and abusive to people around him. He was a bad drunk. He was wrestling with the darkness all the time. The idea of putting yourself into your art is a weird one. It makes for a hard life. The fears, the dread, the hopes even; you have to stand naked. I once made this work called Standing Alone on the Precipice and Overlooking the Arctic Wastelands of Pure Terror. It’s from a book I read.
I actually think Bacon lived like that. There’s a nasty, angsty, brutish edge to his work that is somehow about the nasty comedown side of things, the horrific hangover, the psychic fallout of the heavy drinking, the shadowy things you glimpse at the edge of your vision, the existential terror. It’s like you can surround yourself with things that give you comfort or you can live an animalistic life. He chose the latter, leaving his animal tracks in the snow.
I went around to his studio one night when I was on the charlie. John Edwards took me around. John was really upset about his death and we were all off our heads, but you could feel this huge presence. And this huge absence. It was palpable.
I was obsessed with him as a young painter. I was into punk and I was into Bacon. He was out there on his own. You had the Surrealists, the Impressionists, the Pointillists and all the other ists, and you had Bacon. I gave up painting at 15 because of him. I was just doing bad Bacons. I saw his work and I stopped wanting to be a painter.
I stepped aside into sculpture. I’ve gone back lately, though. For the last two years I’ve been in the shed slapping paint on canvas. Big and small paintings. Skulls, crows, tryptichs. Dark blue. Baconesque. He’s a supreme colourist. Beautiful colours. He seduces you with colour.
I have five Bacons now. They’ll end up in the Manor. I have one on the wall by the TV. I watch it more than I watch the TV. You can’t not look at it. It demands your attention, pulls you in. It’s just unbelievable to me that I own them.
He popped into the Saatchi once to look at my work. They called me and said, ‘Bacon’s been in, he was here for about an hour.’ I didn’t really believe them but then here’s this letter he wrote to Louis Le Brocquy, the Irish painter, where he says, ‘I saw this Hirst fly piece and it really worked.’ I still can’t quite believe it.
Damien Hirst is a painter living in England.
IT REALLY WORKED
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“Back of Your Head” – Cat Power (mp3)
“Metal Heart” – Cat Power (mp3)
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