Damien Hirst has always been about death. Dead sharks, rotting cow’s heads, dissected bodies, desiccated insects… Some of his work is revolting, such as when it incorporates living maggots, but some, like the kaleidoscopic butterfly paintings (and particularly the stained-glass variant), are beautiful. He got away from death with his dot paintings, which one critic nailed as “glorified wall paper”, but which I’d call also-ran Wonder Bread wrapping. There was the series of large round paintings. And then he brought death back in skulls.
He combined his round paintings with skulls to unite beautiful color with the now token reminder of death. Some of these were not bad. The one below is particularly striking.
Some were not as successful. The painting below is too clumsy and there’s too much of that grey-green camouflage color.
Five years later and he’s at it again, but this time using concentric rings. Hirst is as obsessed with death as ever, but now he is focused on what he calls, “the transcendent beauty of it”. What multi-millionaire artist wouldn’t grapple with death? You’ve got it all: fame, fortune, reputation, accolades… and it’s all going to be taken away by merciless time. But Hirst is starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. “I suspect there’s something glorious and illuminating about death. Maybe that’s bullshit, but it occurred to me to think of it as light instead of dark, and then the whole thing came together. There’s still the horror of dying, but when you peel away that layer it’s light shining through. Death is gorgeous.”
The new series of skulls seek to capture the quality of the illumination of death. So far I’ve only seen one image, but I”m looking forward to the rest.
Nah, that one’s really by me, too. Was just looking at his skull paintings, which I rather like (well, the better ones), and thought about his process. The skull is basically a mask or reverse mask. The paintings have two layers with separate patterns for each mask. I thought I could make a pretty good approximation in PS, but didn’t have the right filter to get the exact effect so went with another variety. When I was near finished and went back to look at his to judge whether mine was convincing or not, I found his a bit drab. It’s a fairly glib technique.
Incidentally, I don’t hate Hirst. I don’t really wanna’ like him, but unlike Koons he doesn’t bore the living crap out of me. And you don’t have to know anything about art to get his stuff, even though it’s “conceptual”. He won me over when he attempted to make his own paintings, in a very Baconesque style, which the critics panned. Gotta’ respect the rich conceptual artist with over a hundred artist workers who then decides to make is own paintings. More about those at some point. I wanna’ do a knock-off.