Damien Hirst has turned his best-known works – including the dead shark and the diamond skull – into ABC, a picture book for children. He explains more
How would you describe the book?
It is an alphabet book for kids. Each letter is represented by an artwork, or an element of a piece, from my earliest works to my latest series. I is for Insect shows a detail of one of my recent Entomology Paintings: thousands of bugs arranged in kaleidoscopic patterns. The book also relates to my interest in typography: A is for Albertus, B is for Baskerville etc.
Which are your favourite images?
I love L is for Lamb. The image is of my 1994 work Away from the Flock [a lamb in a tank of formaldehyde]. Over 20 years on, it still has a powerful tragic quality for me. The formaldehyde gives it a kind of serene weightlessness, almost a new life. I also really like A is for Anatomy, which is represented by Hymn (1999-2005) – a 20ft bronze sculpture of an anatomical model that belonged to my son Connor, who is now 18. I loved that it was a toy rather than a medical tool.
How interested were you in art as a child?
I was brought up Catholic, and I felt the power of art from a very young age – seeing the brutality of all those images of flayed apostles and tortured saints was a pretty strong introduction.
What else captured your interest?
Seeing spin art for the first time at a school fête: a fleeting, childish joy that makes you forget everything else. I also remember being at a funfair and seeing a ball floating on an airjet at a rifle-range. It eventually provided inspiration for my Mental Escapology series.
What was the worst thing anyone ever said to you about art when you were younger?
Nothing’s really upset me, but one of my tutors likened my abstract paintings to flower arranging and curtain designs and I was really upset, and then I just thought: why? What’s wrong with something just being visual candy?
Did you send anything to the Hartbeat gallery?
Yes! I sent in a painting of a cheetah.
Have your children ever been scared of your art?
My intention with The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) was to replicate the sort of fear you might feel on being confronted with a shark. It’s the fear of death, but I’ve always noticed kids love it rather than being frightened of it.
How can parents encourage children who aren’t gifted at art?
Kids are naturally gifted at art from a very young age. The problem is when they get older and become self-conscious. The process should always be fun, though. Blue Peter recently did a homemade version of a spin machine. It’s a perfect way for kids to get messy with art, and you also can’t go wrong with potato prints.
Which artist do you think paints like a child?
“Painting like a child” isn’t a negative for me … it’s something only great artists can really achieve. The childlike quality of some of Picasso’s drawings is precisely what makes them so masterful and extraordinary; the ability to express complete visions, feelings and portraits through a continuous line. I love his ceramics with their picadors and little sunny faces. They could almost be the work of a child.
By Hannah Marriott, The Guardian