Damien Hirst II
The man who sat beside me on the train carried a Daily Mail, greatly lowering my expectations of him. He took one of the colour supplements and pushed it behind the tray on the seat-back. “More rubbish”, he said.
“‘Good Health made simple’ would be wonderful if it were true,” I said. So we got chatting. It wiles away the time. He works in electron microscopy, creating images. He made this one for Peter Gabriel’s last album. Gabriel did not know what the picture was: it is a stem cell on the tip of a needle, but Gabriel said it was a blood cell. (Though I may have got that story wrong, and identified the cells wrongly myself.) Here are more of Steve’s beautiful images. They come monochrome, and he spends hours painstakingly colouring them with photoshop. He is going to give a talk at a gallery about the Gabriel images.
He has done lots of pictures of bivalves: what the White Cliffs of Dover are made of. He loves bivalves. He tells me how these creatures are giving ideas to nano-technologists, such as how to make a tiny box for delivery of a drug to a precise area. He used to work in cancer research.
Damien Hirst used his images in a work, which I have probably seen. He or his technical assistants blew up the image, laid a few scalpels on top, and sold it for £250,000. Steve sought legal advice: could he get some of that? The advice was that Hirst had created something new with it, so, it was not worth trying. He is understandably irked at this. He heard that Hirst has very precise instructions for laying out that ashtray, fag packet and cigarette on that desk. Well, yes, I could see that there was something in the proportions and the layout, but the chief value of it as far as I could see was its size and emptiness: not every thing is Art, or even I can make anything Art, but anything is Art if I say so. Hirst’s arrogance was the point. Oh well. We are both travelling second class.
I really enjoyed talking to him, and have had one of my prejudices challenged.
Yet more proof of my complete inadequacy, I thought, then thought wow, that is an incredibly harsh judgment. Not a good habit, though good that it is so extreme, because it makes it noticeable and improveable. No, a good experience, and a learning experience, and there is more where that came from.
On the Tube I see two Chinese fops: they have obviously taken a great deal of care of their appearance. H, one of “the last colonial administrators” around thirty years ago in Hong Kong said that the Chinese hated anything but jet-black hair in themselves, it was an impurity, but one man has dyed mid-brown hair, and one has brown highlights.
The train back is crowded, and I sit at a table by a party of seven from Nottingham, who have been in London for a wedding. “You’ve drawn the short straw, sitting by us” said one, but I saw no reason to agree: seven tired but happy blokes in their forties, ribbing each other a bit. “When I were a lad,” says one, “it was my job to get the fish from the chippy every Friday night. It were two mile. I could walk there, but I had to run back, because if it was cold I would get battered.” Another tells of making his own skateboard from a bit of plywood and some casters. I think they are playing the Four Yorkshiremen game. How much did you spend on drugs? £160? Well, considering I paid for the trip, that isn’t much, says one.