Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings – Trivial or inspiring? You decide

Damien Hirst - 2-(p-Chlorophenoxy)-2-Methylpropionic Acid (Spot Painting), 1998, household gloss on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4cm (36 x 36in.), 4 inch spot
Damien Hirst – 2-(p-Chlorophenoxy)-2-Methylpropionic Acid (Spot Painting), 1998, household gloss on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4 cm / 36 x 36in., 4 inch spot

What are the spot paintings & why are they controversial?

Damien Hirst is one of the most successful and controversial artists of these modern times. Having created a successful career for himself as a result of his highly lucrative spot paintings, Hirst does not actually do most of the painting himself. Of the 1,400 spot paintings currently in existence today, Hirst is only credited with painting 5, a fact that has caused controversy for the artist and his team.

The first spot painting

David Hirst created his very first spot painting while he was still a student in 1986 at London’s Goldsmiths College. It was not until 1988 that he made his work public with his first piece, which he titled Freeze. Today, there are about 1000 spot paintings in the world of different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Damien Hirst’s ‘Spot Paintings‘

The spot paintings are among Damien Hirst’s most recognizable and popular works. In total, Damien has created 13 subseries of paintings that exist within the spots the category. Of all the 13 spot paintings ever created, the Pharmaceutical series is the first and most prolific. So far, there are over 1000 pharmaceutical paintings in existence that date back all the way from 1986 to 2011.

The idea behind it

Basically, the idea behind spot paintings is simple; the paintings feature monochromatic canvases that feature orderly rows of perfectly rounded, glossy spots that are painted in a range of different bright colors. Often compared to Andy Warhol’s bright silkscreens and Technicolor paintings, Damien’s spots are stark and consistent that they have become so instantly recognizable that they often serve as stand-ins for the contemporary artist himself.

Hirst’s spot painting exhibition in 12 galleries at the same time

On January 12, 2012, Damien Hirst’s show was opened on all of Gagosian Gallery’s eleven locations in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Geneva and Hong Kong. More than 150 private individuals or public institutions from twenty countries provided their paintings to create this single exhibition in different countries.

More than 300 paintings were shown, from the first spot, created by Hirst in 1986, to the smallest spot painting comprising half a spot and measuring 1 x 1/2 inch (1996); to a monumental work comprising only four spots, each 60 inches in diameter; and up to the most recent spot painting completed in 2011 containing 25,781 spots that are each 1 millimeter in diameter, with no single color ever repeated. The exhibition preceded the first major museum retrospective of Hirst’s work opening at Tate Modern in London in April 2012.

Damien Hirst ‘Spot Challenge’

Those visitors who manage to see all eleven galleries spread on three continents until February 10, 2012, received a signed spot print by Damien Hirst with a personal dedication. Participation conditions were relatively strict as the print might be worth up to 50.000US$ at that time.

Analysis

Each of the paintings created is unique with most being created using commercial house paint. Colors used for the spots are rarely repeated on the same canvas and are distributed at random. The spaces left between the spots are equal in diameter to the spots itself. Each work is given a long and complex title that is inspired by an index of prescription drugs.

Hirsh’s spot paintings are designed to be hypnotic and disorienting and are meant to induce the type of hazy high that one can get from taking certain prescription drugs. When the works are produced and displayed en masse, the feeling of disorientation is usually higher. Each viewer that observes the spot paintings does so with a different perspective owing to his or her life experiences and cultures.

Conclusion

Each spot and color used for the painting is intended to invoke a different meaning and feeling for each viewer. As such, rather than making the art the primary subjects the spot paintings focus on the viewer instead.

Photos: Spot Paintings

Damien Hirst - Flesh Tint (Spot Painting), 2016, household gloss on canvas, photo Science Ltd
Damien Hirst – Flesh Tint (Spot Painting), 2016, household gloss on canvas, 61 x 81,3 cm / 24 x 32 in.
Photo: Prudance Cuming Associates Ltd./artnet.com

Damien Hirst - 5-Fluorotryptamine, 2007, household gloss on canvas, 170.2x292.3cm
Damien HirstL5-Fluorotryptamine, 2007, household gloss on canvas, 170.2 x 292.3 cm

Damien Hirst - English Lilac (Spot Painting), 2016, household gloss on canvas, 406 x 610mm, photo Science Ltd
Damien Hirst – English Lilac (Spot Painting), 2016, household gloss on canvas, 40,6 x 61cm
Photo: Prudance Cuming Associates Ltd./artnet.com

Damien Hirst - D-Lysergic Acid, 1993, household gloss on canvas, 80¼ x 80¼in. (203.8 x 203.8cm.) (3 inch spot)
Damien Hirst – D-Lysergic Acid (Spot Painting), 1993, household gloss on canvas, 203.8 x 203.8 cm / 80¼ x 80¼ in.

Damien Hirst - Phenylpropiolic Acid (Spot Painting), 2010, household gloss on canvas, 66.2x96.5cm
Damien HirstPhenylpropiolic Acid, 2010, household gloss on canvas, 66.2 x 96.5 cm

Damien Hirst - AMYLOGLUCOSIDASE (Spot Painting), 1993, household gloss on canvas 108 by 127cm., 42 1:2 by 50in.
Damien Hirst – AMYLOGLUCOSIDASE (Spot Painting), 1993, household gloss on canvas 108 by 127cm / 42 1/2 by 50 in

Photos: Spot Prints

Damien Hirst - Lauric Acid Butyl Ester (Spot Print), 2011, 24.1x27.9cm, Edition of 55
Damien HirstLauric Acid Butyl Ester, 2011, 24.1 x 27.9 cm, Edition of 55

Damien Hirst - S-Lactoylglutathione (Spot Print), 2011, Silkscreen print with glaze, 81.28x96.52cm, Edition of 100
Damien HirstS-Lactoylglutathione, 2011, Silkscreen print with glaze, 81.28 x 96.52 cm, Edition of 100

Damien Hirst - Pyronin Y (Spot Print), 2007, 137.8x110.5cm
Damien HirstPyronin Y, 2007, 137.8 x 110.5 cm

Damien Hirst - Phendimetrazine (Spot Print), 2011, Silkscreen print with glaze, 70,5x118cm, Edition of 150
Damien HirstPhendimetrazine, 2011, Silkscreen print with glaze, 70,5 x 118 cm, Edition of 150

Damien Hirst - Methamphetamine (Spot Print), 2004, A single spot etching, Edition of 115
Damien HirstMethamphetamine, 2004, A single spot etching, Edition of 115

Damien Hirst - Ellipticine (Spot Print), 2007, Spot-etching, 110.5x137.8cm, Edition of 75
Damien HirstEllipticine, 2007, Spot-etching, 110.5 x 137.8 cm, Edition of 75

Damien Hirst - Flumequine (Spot Print), Etching in colors, 108 cm - 139.7 cm (42.52 in - 55in)
Damien Hirst – Flumequine (Spot Painting), 2005, Etching in colors, 108 x 139.7 cm / 42.52 x 55 in.

Damien Hirst - Flumequine (Spot Print), Etching in colors, 87.6 cm - 99.7 cm (34.49 in - 39.25 in)
Damien Hirst – Flumequine (Spot Painting), 2005, Etching in colors, 87.6 x 99.7 cm / 34.49 x 39.25 in.

Damien Hirst - Set of three spot etchings (i) Ciclopirox Olamine, (ii) Cineole, (iii) Cinchonidine (Spot Print), 2004, Three colour etchings on Hahnemühle paper, 115x112.5cm, Edition of 145
Damien Hirst – Set of three spot etchings: (i) Ciclopirox Olamine, (ii) Cineole, (iii) Cinchonidine, 2007, household gloss on canvas, 170.2 x 292.3 cm

Photos: Installation views of ‘Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011’ at Gagosian Gallery

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 - Installation view - 1

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 - Installation view - 2

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 - Installation view - 3

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 - Installation view - 4

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 - Installation view - 5

All images by Damien Hirst/damienhirst.com unless otherwise noted.

Videos

Damien Hirst explains the theory and thought behind his infamous spot paintings

4min 37sec

Damien Hirst talks about the meaning of his spot paintings, using assistants without talent and having $300 million

5min 52sec

Interview with Damien Hirst at Tate Modern

12min 50sec

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