Damien Hirst outgrew his reputation as the enfant terrible of the art world years ago, but his puckish energy and instinct for commercial opportunity have not diminished in the three decades since he first exploded onto the scene. 

Now 55, the artist exhibits his Cherry Blossoms at the Fondation Cartier in Paris this summer after a period of furious productivity. Just like Kitagawa Utamaro, Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney before him, Hirst was lured by the ephemeral blossoms both as a symbol of renewal and as a reminder of our temporality, a theme that has always possessed his work. But such is the joy in Hirst’s canvases that you cannot help but fall for them. In his first interview about the show, he tells Beatrice Hodgkin about creating an “all-enveloping visual experience” with his monumental canvases, his return to representational painting and his entrée into the Wild West of non-fungible tokens (“It’s Stupid, It’s Chaos, It’s Love”). One should have expected Hirst to dive into NFTs, but the hot discussion of what will happen in this new frontier of art sales is thrown into quiet relief by his work. For all the commercial twists regarding the business he reigns over, there’s something gloriously basic about his “chaos” in pink paint.

Damien Hirst in his central London studio
Damien Hirst in his central London studio © Alexander Coggin
Natalia Vodianova at home in Paris with her son Lucas
Natalia Vodianova at home in Paris with her son Lucas © Antoni Ciufo

Another creative who is increasingly enamoured of the tech sector, the model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, talks to Alice Cavanagh about her reinvention as an angel investor in augmented reality. I first met Natalia years ago, when she was living in the UK and her son Lucas, with whom she is photographed by Antoni Ciufo, was just a toddler. Tenacious, opinionated and wilfully determined, she’s now based in Paris, married to Antoine Arnault and still possessed of the same Supernova spirit: a genuine force of nature; it’s always fun to try to catch her up.

Topiary in California captured by Marc Alcock
Topiary in California captured by Marc Alcock © Marc Alcock, “Hollywood Juniper”, from “California Topiary”, 2015, courtesy of Sarah Shepard Gallery

The opposite of augmented reality, though no less surreal to the beholder, the art of topiary, is explored by Clare Coulson. These horticultural showstoppers were most popular in the 17th century, where espaliered tree-lined avenues and clipped pyramids ornamented the gardens of the aristocracy – and so today topiary still adds a note of humour, whimsy and not a little order to even the wildest and most romantic space. But while I love the symmetry of those famous centuries-old gardens, I am especially taken with the pictures by Marc Alcock of California topiary, in which trees take on a Tim Burtonesque dimension against stark midcentury walls. 

Knitting has soared as a hobby in recent months as both beginners and long-term enthusiasts embarked on lockdown projects. Yet, while being the antithesis of a virtual activity, its online community has grown exponentially in the past year, taking in everyone from TikTok students to Icelandic grandmas in conversations dedicated to talk of stitch and yarn. Lauren Hadden, herself a dedicated knitter, meets the converts, brands and mentors leading the hand-knit revolution, and offers a list of yarn stores in which to get your stash.

And lastly, what to do about long Covid? Gathering evidence as to how many people are affected by this new medical phenomenon remains challenging, not least because precise symptoms are still unknown. However, brain fog, memory lapses, joint pain and breathing are among some of the most commonly shared side-effects and, in “How to Live with Long Covid”, Rebecca Newman talks to the doctors and researchers working at this new frontier. The advice is illuminating. Even for those without those symptoms, there are many useful takeaways to note: did you know, for example, that even a three per cent decrease in hydration can affect your memory and focus? If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder to prompt that “water” alarm call to give your brain a drink.


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