Published on the occasion of Damien Hirst’s exhibition at White Cube in Hong Kong in the spring of 2013. Amongst many new works illustrated in the publication are pieces from some of Hirst’s latest series: the ‘Entomology’ paintings and the ‘Blade’ paintings.
Hirst began work on the ‘Entomology’ paintings in 2009. Each piece is made by placing hundreds of varieties of insect and beetle species into household gloss paint, in intricate geometric patterns. The series is reminiscent of Hirst’s iconic series of butterfly wing ‘Kaleidoscope’ pieces, dating from 2001, which were originally inspired by Victorian tea trays. As with the butterfly – one of Hirst’s most enduring ‘universal triggers’ – the insects’ appeal derives largely from the appearance of life they retain in death. However, whilst the iridescent beauty of the wings in the ‘Kaleidoscope’ series evoke stained glass windows, and are often assigned spiritual titles, the ‘Entomology’ paintings are named after phases and characters in Dante Alighieri’s tortuous vision of the afterlife: The Divine Comedy. The works also allude to Hirst’s long term interest in the nineteenth century fascination with natural history and the irony involved in having to kill something in order to look at it.
The ‘Blade’ paintings are amongst the newest series of works in Hirst’s practice. Thousands of variously shaped scalpel blades are positioned on a canvas in spectacular, mandala-like patterns. In some of the works, intermittent areas of coloured gloss paint have been layered in between the blades. The ‘Blade’ paintings reference two of Hirst’s seminal earlier series. Whilst their geometric patterns recall the earlier series of butterfly ‘Kaleidoscope’ paintings, in their use of surgical instruments, Hirst also returns to one of his most recognisable themes: medicine, and it’s inevitable futility in the face of our mortality. The surgical materials, first used by Hirst in his early 90s instrument cabinets, are described by the artist as “phenomenal objects because they have to have this confidence and this belief. They are the best quality. They are brilliantly designed, for all the right reasons.” With the ‘Blade’ paintings, the instruments eventual inability to arrest decay is highlighted by their relegation to decorative status.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol in 1965. He first came to public attention in 1988 when he conceived and curated ‘Freeze’, an exhibition of his own work and that of his contemporaries at Goldsmiths college, staged in a disused London warehouse. Since this time Hirst has become widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of his generation.
Through a varied practise of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing Hirst has sought to explore the complex relationship between art, life and death. Alongside over 80 solo exhibitions he has worked on numerous curatorial projects. In 2008, Hirst took the unprecedented step of bypassing gallery involvement in selling 244 new works at a Sotheby’s, London auction entitled ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’.
Hirst was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995 and his contribution to British art over the last two and a half decades has been acknowledged in a major solo retrospective exhibited at Tate Modern, London. He lives in Devon and has studios in Gloucester and London.
Text © Damien Hirst & Science Ltd., All rights reserved, 2012