Love him or hate him, there is no denying Hirst’s success. He is Britain’s richest living artist (reportedly a personal wealth of Â£215m), he holds the record for the largest sale of a single-artist show (Â£111m) and has also won the Turner Prize. It is with this success and fame that my fascination with him lies. I admire his attitude, the humour in his work and his versatility. He has directed a music video for Blur, created album artwork for The Red Hot Chili Peppers and released a music single – amongst his artworks of paintings, sculptures and installations.
My favourite piece is arguably his most famous work, titled ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. Cynical viewers (The Sun called it Â£50,000 for fish with no chips) see it as a shark suspended in a tank, but it really struck a chord with me. The piece is frightening. To be stood looking into the jaws of a ferocious wild animal strikes fear into the viewer- even though common sense says that it cannot do you harm. It is this simple connection that makes Hirst’s work so accessible.
I came across this charming story, written by Tim Williams, a while back and it has stuck with me ever since (I wish I had thought of the idea first):
‘It became clear that I was never going to afford to buy a Hirst artwork. So in 2006, I thought I’d write to him and ask whether he’d be kind enough to draw me something, anything. In my humble package I included a pencil, a mini Mars bar and a sheet of drawing paper. I found a vague address and popped it in the post. At the very worst I’d deprived myself of my favourite confectionary, at best I’d probably receive my package back with no such address.
A week or so went past, by which time I’d pretty much forgotten all about it until I checked the morning’s mail. There was my envelope, with my hand writing and my return address circled in a black marker. I opened the package, intent on consuming the chocolate to ease my disappointment, but it had disappeared. My sheet of drawing paper was now emblazoned with graphite. He’d drawn me the freaking shark! I couldn’t have wished for anything better. Inscribed on it is “For Tim Williams who will NEVER sell xxxx” â€“ something I had promised in my letter. I don’t know why, but I was particularly pleased to observe a section he’d rubbed out and corrected and that he hadn’t returned the pencil â€“ I like to speculate that he may have even used my pencil in subsequent artworks.’
Maybe he is not so bad after all.