Eleven galleries around the world are filled with your paintings of spots. Why?
I was at one of Larry [Gagosian]'s galleries, and he has the names of artists on display at his 11 galleries printed on the wall. I thought, Wouldn't it be cool if it was all just my name? You know, I'm the only artist in the world with a series that could fill all his galleries. It was just a perverted megalomaniacal idea.
How many spot paintings are there?
Approximately 1,500 at the moment, which seems like a lot, but I think it works out to about 60 a year. Warhol did 10,000 paintings, and I think Picasso did 40,000. With all my work, I'm at 4,400.
How many of the spot paintings did you personally paint?
Probably close to 25.
How far can you go with outsourcing the painting?
You've always got to believe that you can train anybody. The difference is between art and craft. I've always been careful to not hire somebody who's an absolutely brilliant painter, because then you kind of rely on their talent, whereas it's much better to believe anybody can do this.
A lot of your work deals with decay and death and squalor. Where does this come from?
I always go for both sides of the story. When I make a butterfly painting, I don't want to seem to be too soppy, so I'll do a fly painting. I think of all my exhibitions as group shows, really.
There's a lot of showmanship in what you do, like the platinum skull covered with diamonds you tried to sell for $100 million. How is what you make different from the creations they whip up on those Pimp My Ride type shows?
I think anything done super-well is art. And it could be a great meal, or it could be a great meeting. Artists make art from what's around them, and [with that piece] we had just had this art boom. To be in that situation was kind of nuts, because I grew up poor and the diamond skull was the only thing I could come up with to make. It kind of scared the hell out of me.
Is it harder to make art when you have so much money?
I think money is as complicated as love. I probably have a fear that money might turn out to be more important than art.
This from the man who's worth, what, $300 million?
It changes. I'm O.K., I'm sure. I was speaking to my accountant about my kids recently, and he said, "Don't worry about the kids." But if you're not born into money, you always worry. You can't help it.
So what happened to the $100 million skull?
In the end I covered my fabrication and a few other costs by selling a third of it to an investment group, who are anonymous. It's really weird. It's probably the first thing I've ever made where I can't have it in my living room.
When people see your work, how would you like it to change the way they look at things?
You know, there's a great piece by Tom Friedman [1,000 Hours of Staring], a blank piece of paper pinned to the wall that he stared at over five years. It's a really funny thing, and it fools with your head. It's also a great object. You can't divorce the two. You can't take away the object and then just have what's in your head. You've got to have both.