Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 -2011 at the Gagosian Gallery

Phe-Tyr, 2004–11
Whilst Damien Hirst may have achieved worldwide fame, and some notoriety, with his sliced and diced animals pickled in formaldehyde, the British artist's current show at the Gagosian Gallery in Rome is a decidedly less gruesome affair. The Complete Spot Paintings are exactly as the title implies – precise grids of different coloured discs of household gloss enamel painted onto white or off-white canvases – and some of them are really rather beautiful. Not that Hirst's works can't be beautiful - his controversial butterfly collages with their dazzling, kaleidoscopic colours are stunning, but the thought of the artist – or presumably his numerous assistants – systematically pulling the wings off thousands of exotic butterflies to create them, inevitably makes viewing these, and other works, disturbing.

Damien Hirst is one of the few post-Warhol artists to have truly become a global brand and as if to emphasise this point the 300 or so paintings in this show are spread across all of the Gagosian’s eleven locations in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Athens, Geneva, and Hong Kong, with seventeen pieces on display in Rome. Similarly to Warhol, Hirst has only ever painted a handful of Spot Paintings himself and instead employs studio assistants to execute the works – the assistants even choose the colours. Perhaps it is the diversity of hands and very individual colour choices behind the the creation of these works that brings such variety to this exhibition – some colours positively vibrate and keep the viewer gazing at the canvas long and hard, whilst other compositions appeal less and barely earn more than a glance. Even the steadiness of the outlines and the precision of each dot might vary from canvas to canvas to create subtle, yet fundamental differences that render each piece unique, and very human, in spite of their initial machine-made impact.

Many of the paintings are titled after pharmaceutical drugs and some ways one is reminded of the multi-coloured pills used in Hirst's medicine cabinet installations, such as Lullaby Spring which contained 6,136 individually painted pills (and which sold for a record-breaking £9.65 million at Sotheby's in London a few years back). Maybe, the bad boy of British art has been a colourist all along...
I was always a colorist, I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color… I mean, I just move color around on its own. So that’s where the spot paintings came from—to create that structure to do those colors, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of color.
Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 -2011 continues at the Gagosian Gallery at Via Francesco Crispi, 16 until 10 March, 2012. Worth a visit!

Image © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2011 (Web-resolution, fair use)