His art is celebrated and derided in equal measure. But Damien Hirst is in no doubt about his talent – and for good reason.
“If I put it in a skip outside a pub, would someone take it home? And you think, ‘yeah, they would.’ If it’s good, it won’t get left in the street.
“I think that’s a good way of working out if a painting’s good or not.”
One of Britain’s most controversial artists, Hirst, 52, is famous for making a fortune, pickled sharks and a skull covered in more than 8,000 diamonds.
He picked up the Turner Prize along the way in 1995.
Now he is taking over the spectacular gilded state rooms of Houghton Hall in Norfolk, to show a series of paintings which have never been seen in public before.
Hirst has removed 45 Old Master paintings by artists including Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds from the walls of the Palladian mansion and replaced them with what he has called his “Colour Space” paintings.
They are a new body of work based on the Spot Paintings which made his name in the 1980s – and are among his most recognised works.
Back then, he says, he wanted the spots to be uniform and “to make them look like they were made by machine, not a person.”
Now that has changed.
“After 25 years of paintings spots perfectly they felt like me when I was in my 20s. But now I’m in my 50s, I don’t feel as attached to them in the same way.”
So the Colour Space pictures are less uniform and more higgledy-piggledy.
“It’s messy and it’s kind of annoying and there’s drips and there’s dribbles,” he explains.
“Maybe because I’m getting older and I’m starting to get a bit drooly, a bit dribbly like these paintings,” he adds.
Hirst says he has painted “bits” on all of the paintings in the exhibition. But nothing more.
He famously employs a team of assistants to produce his art, working “almost like a factory.”
But he defends his approach.
“Everybody goes, did you actually paint them? I don’t know why that’s important in art.
“If you live in a Frank Gehry house, it’s not important to you that he laid the bricks.
“And I see myself more like a kind of architect in the way that I make things, than a painter, even if I’m making paintings.”
He explains: “Since the very beginning I’ve always delegated anything that I can. I always want to find shortcuts to get what I want.
“I’m impatient, so if I can get other people to make them, I will do that.”
Hirst says he has got a “fair bit” of his work on display in his own home. But it is not always welcome.
He remembers giving his young son a Spot Painting to hang in his bedroom.
“When he turned 10, I said: ‘You can have anything you want from our art collection.'”
His response: “Can I not have the Spot Painting? Can I have a Banksy?”