Jolly is an exuberant example of the Visual Candy series Damien Hirst executed between 1992 and 1995. This rare work from 1994-5 is one of a small number of paintings from the series, which was created in reaction to a critic of Hirst's previous spot paintings. "He said to me, 'I really like your work, but I hate the stupid spot paintings,' and I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'Because they're just visual candy.' I couldn't get it out of my head, I thought [what's] wrong with visual candy?" (Damien Hirst, I want to Spent the Rest of my Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Forever, Now, London 1997, p. 198). This encounter served only to encourage Hirst to explore works which appeal first and foremost to instinctive emotion rather than belaboured thought-process.
From an art historical perspective, this artistic experimentation with the expressive possibilities and psychological influence of colour relates directly to Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field Painting. In the context of Hirst's career, these chromatic explorations also chronologically and aesthetically link the artist's Spot and Spin paintings. The compositional arrangement is deliberate, like the former, while the articulation of each irregular shape is loose and gestural, preceding the technical spontaneity in the latter. Bright forms of superimposing oil paint seem to vibrate in contrast with each other, covering the expanse of the canvas entirely in thick articulated brushstrokes. The absence of a specific focal point sends the viewer's eye in constant motion across the painting, and the palette of vibrant yellow and red tones pulsates with energy.
While apparently abstract, the composition in fact derives from an image of assorted multi-coloured medicinal pills in a dense cluster. As such, Hirst draws parallels between the mood-stimulating possibilities of prescription drugs and art. His intention with the visual experience of Jolly is therefore to psychosomatically evoke the sensation of ecstasy, as underscored by the title of the work. He optimistically suggests that our choices of consumption, physical and mental, determine our state of happiness, and that happiness is thereby within our control.
"I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz" (The artist in: Ibid., p. 246). Jolly's confetti of colour conveys to the viewer this sense of sheer joy. Like sweets, it provides the immediate satisfaction of a craving sated; it relieves the hunger of the psyche for pleasure. "Everything I do is a celebration, at the very least it's a celebration" (the artist interviewed by Stuart Morgan in: Exhibition Catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, London, Damien Hirst: No Sense of Absolute Corruption, 1996 p. 28).
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