Damien Hirst: On the Spot
The Industrious Art Star Occupies Gagosian Galleries Worldwide with His Complete Spot Paintings
A rhinestone-wearing Damien Hirst explains the theory and thought behind his infamous spot paintings in the latest short from filmmaker Matt Black. The legendary British artist, made famous by submerging mammals in formaldehyde and creating jaw-droppingly expensive jewel-encrusted skulls, has become one of the most prolific and lucrative names in contemporary art. The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011, his series of 331 white canvasses imbued with rows of multicolored dots, are currently on display at all 11 of mega-gallerist Larry Gagosian’s sites around the globe. Manufactured largely by Hirst’s army of assistants, the paintings range in size and detail, with the most recent, completed in 2011, containing some 25,781 spots each 1mm in diameter; no single color is ever repeated on a canvas. Black first encountered Hirst’s hyper-symmetrical series in the mid 1990s, and found that his opinion on the works slowly developed from ambivalence to fascination. “When you are in a room full of them, they are overwhelming and disturbing; these dots staring at you creates a real sense of anxiety,” says Black. “His work always has an aggressiveness, and these are no exception.”
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England in 1965. While still a student at Goldsmith's College in 1988, he curated the now renowned student exhibition, Freeze, held in east London. In this exhibition, Hirst brought together a group of young artists who would come to define cutting-edge contemporary art in the 1990s. In 1991, he had his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery, entitled In and Out of Love, in which he filled the gallery with hundreds of live tropical butterflies, some of which were hatched from the monochrome canvases that hung the walls. In 1992, he was part of the ground breaking Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. In this show, he exhibited his now famous Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde. That same year he was nominated for the prestigious Tate Gallery Turner Prize, and later won that coveted award in 1995.
Hirst's best known works are his paintings, medicine cabinet sculptures, and glass tank installations. For the most part, his paintings have taken on two styles. One is an arrangement of color spots with titles that refer to pharmaceutical chemicals, known as Spot paintings. The second, his Spin paintings, are created by centrifugal force, when Hirst places his canvases on a spinner, and pours the paint as they spin. In the medicine cabinet pieces Hirst redefines sculpture with his arrangements of various drugs, surgical tools, and medical supplies. His tank pieces, which contain dead animals, that are preserved in formaldehyde, are another kind of sculpture and directly address the inevitable mortality of all living beings. All of Hirst's works contain his ironic wit, and question art's role in contemporary culture.