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The Buck stopped here

Ashley Bickerton gets ornamentally hysterical with Damien Hirst

By Louisa Buck

According to Ashley Bickerton, Ornamental Hysteria, the title of his new exhibition at Damien Hirst’s Newport St Gallery, means “absolutely nothing”. And agreeing on a name for the show was by far the hardest thing in what he describes as his and Hirst’s “lengthy and deep collaboration” over the show. “We went back and forth a million times; I wanted it to be called Bastard Tongues after my Dad’s book [Bickerton’s father is the eminent linguist Derek Bickerton] but Damien said he wasn't having ‘Bastard’ written up on the outside of his building.”

However, everything else seems to have been hunky dory, with Bickerton declaring at yesterday’s opening (20 April) that “this is the single most fun and rewarding thing I’ve ever done as an artist”, despite his assertion that “no one is as OCD and demanding as Damien. If he doesn't like something he doesn't answer; if likes it, he responds in two seconds”. Responses were evidently forthcoming in the case of the last room of the show, which is entirely made up of works created this year, with Hirst urging Bickerton to make “the best work of [his] life”. And Bickerton admitting to feeling like “a drunken marionette. I was so far out of my comfort zone.” 

Nonetheless, he declares himself happy with these most recent investigations, which include meticulously arranged beach debris gathered from the shoreline, a wall-mounted model swordfish and two pieces of text that form hyperbolic purple-prose paeans to the ocean that has been this surfer artist’s lifelong love. They also flag up something else the two artists recently discovered they have in common, Bickerton says. “I was just with Damien at his opening in Venice and looking round I said: ‘I just realised, we’re both maritime artists!’”