Ronnie O’Sullivan came up to me at my Sotheby’s auction and looked at the spot painting and said: ‘Do people buy that?’ A painting probably is the most shocking increase in value, from what it costs to make to what you sell it for. But you’d never look at a Rembrandt and say, ‘That’s just wood and canvas and paint - how much?!’ It’s all about how many people want it. It works on a pair of jeans as well - they're just material and stitching and as soon as you walk out of the shop, they’re worth nothing.
I’ve been asked to do a retrospective since I was about 28 and I always thought that was a bit odd. It’s great to look forward as an artist because in the future the possibilities are infinite; you look back and it’s all fixed so it's a scary thing. I think I was avoiding it because I was afraid of it, but the idea is more frightening than the reality. You've got to get to the point where you're ready to look back. And I feel proud of it all. I saw little kids running around yesterday going, ‘Wow!’ and I think, if I can still get people to do that...
I suppose the fear was that it was all going to be dusty and covered in cobwebs and be meaningless. When I look back at myself in videos I’m wearing the most awful clothes and you just think, ‘Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?’ I thought it was cool at the time. My fear was that the art would be the same.You watch Reeves and Mortimer on TV or Spitting Image and it doesn’t have any meaning any more, although it was great at the time. As an artist you’re afraid that’s going to happen to you.
Whenever I've been well-known or hitting the press, I've always had to get my credit card out to prove I'm Damien Hirst. I've had laser eye surgery and I don’t wear glasses any more, so people just go, 'You're not Damien Hirst'. I don't get recognied on the street. Even when I was drinking a lot in the '80s and '90s, hanging out with people like Jarvis [Cocker] or Keith Allen, they were getting much more of it.
I made the skull [For the Love of God, encrusted with 8,601 diamonds and reported to have sold for £50m] because in a situation where there was all this money being made, I wanted to make something about the money. When you’re in a position where you have made loads and loads of money, it should be used to make art rather than letting it pile up.
You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards and the T-shirts and the mousepads and the mugs. One thing is the art work, the other is getting it out there, and I’ve always been torn between the two. The price tag on the art is a bit more than in the gift shop.
Like anything, you can’t control who buys your work. If you’re Miuccia Prada, you wouldn’t say ‘you’re not cool enough to buy that suit’. If you’re selling it you have to make art that survives in beautiful spaces and ugly spaces. The art has got to survive anywhere. What’s the most horrible place you could put a piece of art? [Thinks for a while] Maybe No 10 Downing Street? You hope that people would go in and say, ‘Horrible house - nice painting’.
Will I keep working? If I’m still alive. The idea of going on tour for the rest of my life with old works is not that exciting. As an artist I definitely think the work in future is going to be better than the work in the past, otherwise why do it?
Flog your Damien Hirsts? Hmm. Keep ‘em for a few more spins of the roulette wheel, I'd say."
Damien Hirst runs from 4 April - 9 September at Tate Modern