- Damien Hirst
- Dark Joy
- signed, titled and dated 2012 on the reverse of each panel
- butterflies and household gloss on canvas, in two parts
- each: 60 x 60 in. 152.4 x 152.4 cm.
Executed in 2012, Dark Joy illustrates Hirst returning to one of his most enduring motifs: the butterfly. Butterflies were one of Hirst’s first sources of inspiration, and punctuate masterpieces throughout his career to date. For the artist, the brevity of a butterfly’s life, the way in which it almost magically appears to animate air and the magnificent color it brings to the world, renders it nature’s ultimate symbol of love and beauty. As Hirst recalls “I had [butterflies] in my bedroom... I got wooden frames and nylon mesh and I made a huge box in my bedroom. It took up half the bedroom... There was only room for my bed and the box, and we were in the same room.” (Damien Hirst in conversation with Mirta D’Argenzio in Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Damien Hirst, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Selected Works from 1989-2004, 2004, p. 78) The reason he kept these butterflies was for one of his earliest and most famous exhibitions, In & Out of Love, which was held in a former travel agent’s office in 1991. It featured a combination of butterfly paintings with adult specimens on canvas which were contrasted with pupae attached to a number of white canvases; bowls of sugar water placed near the ‘pupae’ canvases allowed the butterflies to feed and mate. The subsequent hatching and metamorphosis effectively served as a miniature illustration of the complete cycle of life and death: a theme of endless fascination for Hirst.
The remarkable ability of a butterfly to still appear beautiful, even in death, was another source of artistic appeal: "I remember painting something white once and flies landing on it, thinking "Fuck!" but then thinking it was funny. This idea of an artist trying to make a monochrome and being fucked up by flies landing in the paint or something like that. Then you get the beauty of the butterfly, but it is actually something horrible. It is like the butterfly has flown around and died horribly in the paint. The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing.” (Damien Hirst in conversation with Mirta D’Argenzio in ibid., p. 83)
As though an extension of, and reengagement with, the illustrious history of Monochrome painting in the Twentieth Century, Hirst permitted the vivacious colors of the butterflies to drive the overall color of the paintings. The contrarian rapport between the black and pink of the canvases in Dark Joy owes much to Hirst’s preoccupation with opposites, and in particular contrasting colours, which, for the artist, are the ultimate symbols of life and death. As he explains, “I’ve always been interested in the split between mind and body, the one and the other, the difference between art and life, life and death, like black and white... I think of life and death as black and white. If life is white, black is death. Trying to explain or imagine death is like trying to imagine black by only using white. There’s no way you can get to it, it’s like the same thing but opposite. This is life and death isn’t.” (The artist cited in Adrian Dannatt, 'Damien Hirst: Life’s like this, then it stops', Flash Art, No. 169, March-April 1993, p. 63) This idea is perfectly encapsulated in the vibrant, contrasting canvases of the present work and in its lyrically opposing title: Dark Joy.