March 12, 2014
Damien Hirst is writing a memoir, can’t remember the ’90s
by Sal Robinson
Well, he’s honest.
Infamous fishmonger and artistic bad boy Damien Hirst has announced that he’s writing his memoirs. And yet, and yet… there are some years in there that Hirst says he doesn’t remember. Not a year or so, passed in a flurry of pickling and gilding and placing diamonds just so, but ten whole years. The early ‘90s, specifically, when Hirst made his name artistically and was boozing and coking it up around London.
It was during this period—Hirst’s days at Goldsmiths College and just after—that he first gained a reputation for artworks such as “A Thousand Years,” a glass case containing a rotting cow’s head, and “Away from the Flock,” a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde. Also, he won the Turner Prize (1995), and both curated and participated in a number of important shows, including the landmark 1992 Young British Artists show at the Saatchi Gallery. He palled around with Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, did dirty party tricks at the Groucho Club, and generally tore things up—so thoroughly, in fact, that he now confesses that he has a “ten-year hole” in his life, which is going to be rather tricky to write about.
It’s not hopeless, however: Hirst has enlisted the help of James Fox, who was the ghostwriter for Keith Richard’s memoir, Life. That book involved a lot of reconstruction as well, as you might expect—Fox and Richards spent hundreds of hours sitting across from each other, piecing together Richards’ life.
Fox has described the Hirst memoir as a “joint venture,” with the two of them both doing research, including interviewing Hirst’s friends and associates. This opens up a can of worms, since Hirst’s had significant fallings-out with, among other people, Charles Saatchi. Things have calmed down, but back in the early 2000s, Hirst was saying cutting things like “I’m not Charles Saatchi’s barrel-organ monkey” and “He only recognises art with his wallet,” and buying back his art from Saatchi. And it’s fair to expect that not all of Hirst’s friends’ memories are going to involve gentle Sunday afternoons on the Serpentine.
Emma John points out in the Guardian that Hirst’s memory lapses are probably going to confirm some readers’ skepticism that there was anything worth hearing about in the first place, writing that “it is just possible that those who deride Hirst’s technical skills, lambast his ideas and decry his work as soulless have just found the black hole whose existence they’ve always suspected.”
But even if a Hirst-weary, recession-era public isn’t convinced, I’m looking forward to the partially remembered, cobbled-together, maybe-not-all-true spectacular antics of Hirst’s younger self, since that’s the best version of youthful antics anyway. And at least it’s not his poetry.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.