Damien Hirst, Forbidden Fruit (2012-3), via White Cube Hong Kong
White Cube Hong Kong is currently presenting Entomology Cabinets and Paintings, Scalpel Blade Paintings and Colour Charts, a broad exhibition of new work by British artist Damien Hirst. Through the three series on view, Hirst explores life’s dualities through the beauty and horror of both the Natural world and modernity.
Damien Hirst, The Judged (2012), via White Cube Hong Kong
The Entomology Cabinets and Paintings feature works from the artist’s 2009 Entomology series, presented with the addition of thousands of colorful insects, spiders and Hirst’s familiar butterfly motif. The insect world, to Hirst, is an apt reminder of life’s fragility and delicate irony. Despite delicate wings and an enchanting iridescence (even in death), the harmonic pleasure of shapes formed by the work’s once living material also possesses a discordant counterpoint, the fear and repulsion many feel towards insects. As in other of Hirst works, precise grids become formal attributes of the cabinet works. The insects are positioned by species in orderly rows creating both a scientific and industrial atmosphere. This rigidity, however, is broken with closer viewing, upon which the viewer can spot slight variations and subtle asymmetry.
Scalpel Blade Paintings, a new series of work, continues Hirst’s interest in scientific themes by creating intricate, mandala-like forms with thousands of different scalpel blades. While some paintings are monochromatic, others incorporate free use of bright colors, yet all are visually influenced by the light reflecting off each precisely angled blade. The majesty of the blades, similar to Hirst’s use of insects, also play on our deeper fears. The initial comfort of the complex patterns can just as soon turn into discomfort as the scalpel blades become a violent reminder of the limited protection offered by our flesh, the experience of pain and the mysteries of the body. One can link these works to Hirst’s instrument cabinets of the 1990s, where surgical instruments were used to create highly aesthetic works, while embodying medicine’s futility in the face of our inevitable mortality.
Breaking from the assemblage techniques of the other works, Hirst’s Colour Charts use color theory as a compass for their compositions. As in Hirst’s infamous Spot Paintings, juxtaposition of color combinations maximize a color’s individual energy field. High gloss paint brilliantly captures the potential of each primary, secondary and tertiary color. The usual calming order of the color chart becomes an existential question, begging the viewer to question what they know or think to be, thus tipping the balance that a color chart normally brings when placed in this gallery context.
In this latest exhibition, Hirst plays within his usual field visually stunning works that are masterfully artful in their creation. The patterns and forms produced by Hirst are often reassuring reminders of the underlying order humans impose on chaos, but are ultimately affective for their power to stir our senses and make us aware of the the darker corners of our pleasure.