And there's another upside to an illusion created by nothing but paint, as opposed to steel and glass. "Just put a screw in the wall," he notes, "and hang it."
Like most all the paintings in "The Elusive Truth!" this one has been presold by art dealer Larry Gagosian. French billionaire Francois Pinault bought "Mortuary" for his new contemporary arts museum in Paris, scheduled to open in 2007, paying $1.8 million.
Hirst says his 9-year-old son, Connor, came home one afternoon and said, "Daddy, a girl at school told me that you're rich."
It's hard to explain to a kid how this didn't happen overnight -- it's taken two decades -- or how he had to spend millions to buy his works back from Saatchi in 2003 after their falling out. Or how he has had bad ideas, like his pharmacy-themed restaurant in Notting Hill, which went bust. Then again, 500 bidders went bonkers last fall when Sotheby's auctioned off the barstools and martini glasses that Hirst designed for the place and he wound up making a mint anyway. The lesson: Hire a chef who pays attention to the food, he says, instead of prancing around like some celebrity.
He says he had a talk about wealth and fame with his son, who's a budding artist and "a great drawer, much better drawer than I was," and who even picks normal subjects for a boy his age -- warriors and superheroes in elaborate armor. Hirst then went to the school so the other kids could see firsthand what Connor's daddy is like and not have to rely on the whisperings of their parents. He took his spin machine with him and showed Connor's schoolmates how to use it. He also brought a stamp that said "This painting was made by ------ with Damien Hirst."
He didn't sign them, however, for the simple reason that, if he had, some parents might have had visions of new cars, or home additions, and not stuck the kids' little spin paintings on their refrigerators.
Is it not a crazy time for the man who runs his arts enterprises under the banner Science Ltd.? Lunch has arrived, so Hirst sits on the gallery floor to eat spaghetti, then opens an envelop from a friend, with a gift: a necklace made entirely of paper, with white paper loops as a chain and, as the pendant, a paper dollar sign. Paper bling.
AMONG THE ADORING
There's a line outside the Gagosian Gallery half an hour before the doors open at 6 p.m. March 11 for the show that runs through April 23. Some wealthy collectors have gotten private tours over the last couple of days, but the official opening draws a throng of aficionados and familiar faces, with actors Steve Buscemi and Gina Gershon among the first to view Hirst's 30 paintings.
The artist himself waits until 6:30 to make his entrance, carrying a Diet Coke and wearing oversized orange-tinted glasses and a suit from his favorite designer whose pants are left frayed at the bottom and whose jacket has, naturally, a skull on its back. As he expected, he is mobbed as he walks into the showroom with the "Mortuary" scene and paintings of an empty hospital corridor and a "Sliced Human Brain." Hirst signs a half-dozen books and programs handed to him and then says, "I got a pregnant wife here. Let me go find her." That he does, in another room, and gives her a kiss. By 6:37, Hirst has made his exit, to a private section of the gallery.
Though he uses "wife" interchangeably with "girlfriend," he is not married to Maia Norman, who remains behind to accept congratulations from a procession of acquaintances -- both for his show and because she's due to have their third child in September. One friend jokes how "Trouble and strife/that rhymes with wife," but she says that's not the reason they haven't gone for the ritual. Partly it's been a case of "if it's not broken ... " and they also share a "bad memory
She was born in Berkeley and raised in Orange County, where she grew into an unusual blend of beach kid and bohemian, learning to body surf the waves off Corona del Mar and Newport before heading off, at 21, to study fine art in Paris. When school there didn't work out, she decided to return home but stopped first in London, where she wound up in a relationship with Jay Jopling, who became Hirst's first art dealer. One thing lead to another and today the onetime California girl speaks in a distinct British accent.
Norman, who has designed jewelry and clothing over the years, says she also functioned much as Hirst's assistants do today when, in his early days, he thought it might be interesting to create rows of perfectly spaced dots on white backgrounds using house paint. "In fact, I was his first spot painter. He was going to make the spots really amorphous and I said, 'No, no. Use a compass and do these properly.' Yeah, I did the first 10."
She swears that it's not just shtick, then, when he suggests he does little of the actual painting today -- other than, say, laying on the bright red paint depicting the blood streaming from under the eye of the man in "Football Violence."