Invited by Disney to reinterpret the corporation's universally recognized icon, Damien Hirst recently re-created Mickey Mouse as one of his famous spot paintings. Unlike his diamond-encrusted skulls and sharks preserved in formaldehyde, Mickey is much more playful and lively. Hirst auctioned his kid-friendly painting off to raise money for Kids Company, an organization which helps at-risk youth in London and Bristol.
Hirst's compassion for these children stems from his own struggles as a child, which he revealed in an interview with The Guardian. The British artist recently sat down with the national newspaper to discuss how art saved his childhood and the projects he's done with Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company.
For starters, Hirst didn't see any money in being an artist. "We ran out of money and we couldn't pay the bills so we had the electricity cut off and things like that," Hirst said, recalling his childhood. "At school I tried to do technical drawing. I could see that could get you a job, whereas I never thought 'artist' could be a job, I never thought artists could get paid."
Now that he's one of the world's most celebrated contemporary artists, however, he's a staunch believer in giving back. "When I started off, I didn't have much money. I had an interest in art—don't know where it came from—and art helped me get where I've gone," he said. "So you do feel you want to give something back, but you don't feel you need to be acknowledged for that. It's a lot nicer to just do it."
For Hirst, art was a necessity for surviving his childhood, just as it is for many of the children Kids Company supports. In 2009, Batmanghelidjh started a simple project, where she asked 125 kids to create miniature models of a room from their homes inside a shoebox. The results were shocking. "They told us things like: 'I feed the rats in the cupboard;' they talked about firearms being hidden; they talked about sexual abuse," said Batmanghelidjh, who then reached out to Hirst and asked him to assemble a group of artists to make their own shoebox models. In the end, the artists' works were auctioned off and raised over £200,000.
"There's a sort of desperation that money taints and poisons everything," Hirst said, somewhat of an ironic statement coming from one of the wealthiest artists in the world. Yet Hirst realizes that just as money has the power to ruin things, it can also help save lives. At least he's putting all that money towards a good cause (when he's not building entire towns, that is).
Read the rest of The Guardian's interview with Hirst and Batmanghelidjh here. Hirst's Mickey will be auctioned off at Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, happening this Thursday.