When I’m creating my own work I can redefine what beauty means all the time. I find it in the unexpected and the imperfect. When it comes to humans, healthy people tend to be beautiful – they shine in a certain way – and we react to healthy people. The ageing process can be beautiful, too. My mother and I were very close, and I found her the most beautiful person right up until the very end, when she died last Christmas.
I was first struck by Botticelli in the 2000s. It was quiet in the National Gallery and I had Venus and Mars to myself. I stood in front of it for what felt like forever. What struck me was the Greek idea of the God of War and the Goddess of Love, together, and how our basic nature is the same: greed and war versus love and beauty. I created The Rape of Africa, based on that painting, after reading about the African gold mines and being moved by the human suffering and desecration to the land. I get asked why I used a supermodel [Naomi Campbell] to represent Venus. To put it simply, it was because she is a great beauty of our time.
Our notions of beauty have changed radically in the past 10 years. The rise of social media has made it acceptable for people to take hundreds of photos of themselves, retouch them and post them for the world to see: behaviour that would once have been viewed as narcissistic and vain, but it’s now normalised. We’ve become self-obsessed.