Decaying and preserved animals, extinguished cigarette butts, butterflies, pharmaceuticals, diamonds, skulls, religion, love, death and peace – all such instruments exist in multitudes in the Damien Hirst tool chest. As the Contemporary Artist most often placed at the center of the movement known as the YBA – Young British Artists, Hirst earned his place as the artist most likely to shake things up. To many, Damien Hirst is considered the quintessential “shock jock” of Contemporary British Art, yet his masterful manipulations frequently take the viewer far beyond shock, to heightened levels of actual fear, concern and confusion.
Damien Hirst’s installation, Mother and Child Divided, is just one of the more famous examples. Featuring a cow and calf dissected, each in a vitrine filled with formaldehyde, the obvious initial effect is startling, but the title itself perfectly delivers the intriguing secondary levels of thought. What begins as a high-minded viewing of Contemporary Art quickly turns into a likely rather serious guilt trip for those that consume the work. Are we as guilty as the artist for taking in this vision of death in the confines of a museum or gallery? Are we guilty for being part of a culture that slaughters such unassuming animals, regularly dividing mother from child? Is the artist saying this or something else…something more…nothing at all?
Damien Hirst’s Crematorium, though initially less shocking, is even more concerning. The artist often uses cigarette butts in various displays to evoke a response from us. In the context of being created by an artist who works with dead animals and human skulls, this piece immediately conjures thoughts of death. The butts themselves, once lit and full of “life” now lay extinguished. What of those who consumed the smoke? Perhaps they too are no longer with us, or their lives are now cut shorter as a result of indulging in these smokes. The thoughts keep coming, so many cigarette butts in one place; what of the stories that accompanied the scenes in which they were smoked, and how dense would a cloud of smoke appear if it existed cumulatively?
Hirst has spoken frankly about the allure of cigarettes as subject matter, alluding to the birth of opening a new pack, the creationism that occurs from lighting a cigarette and the inevitable comparison to death that accompanies the end of the smoke. Once again, in the case of Crematorium, the title ensures that our minds lead us where the artist intends.
Like all great storytellers, once you think that you’ve got the artist pegged, Damien Hirst throws a curve. Hirst’s spot paintings are tranquil and calming. In the artist’s “Pharmaceutical” series of spot paintings, the titles of each are derived from the names of chemicals substances used to create the drugs. At our Boca Raton Contemporary Art gallery, VFA is pleased to offer a number of Damien Hirst limited edition prints of these famed woodcut spot paintings.
Interestingly, news about a Damien Hirst spot painting is breaking now on the artist’s website. Hirst has developed a version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse character, using 12 spots. The piece will be auctioned in February 2014 as part of a fundraising effort for Kids Company − a U.K. organization that provides for children in need.
To view any of the remarkable Damien Hirst works currently available at Vertu Fine Art, stop in for a visit at our Boca Raton gallery. If you require assistance in sourcing a specific Damien Hirst work, you can contact us and we’ll be pleased to help.