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

4 min 37 sec

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 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.

What are the spot paintings?

Damien Hirst is one of the most successful and controversial artists of these modern times. Having created a successful career for himself due to 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, which has caused controversy for the artist and his team.

The first spot painting & The idea behind it

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.

Basically, the idea behind spot paintings is simple; the paintings feature monochromatic canvases that feature orderly rows of perfectly rounded, glossy spots 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.

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The Spot Challenge

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.

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.


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 themselves. 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 who observes the spot paintings does so with a different perspective due to their life experiences and cultures.

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

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All images by Damien Hirst unless otherwise noted.

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