Damien Hirst’s Levamisole is a dazzling, multi-chromatic grid of four-inch spots from the artist’s celebrated spot paintings. The eye moves from one edge of the canvas to the other, unable to settle on just one color. Like Gerhard Richter’s color chart paintings from the 1970s, Hirst is extremely thoughtful and refined in his execution of the latticed composition and like the Pointillists of late 19th century, his paintings feature vibrant colors that reverberate off the canvas. The artist once remarked of his role as a colorist, "I just move color around on its own. So that's what the spot paintings came from—to create that structure to do those colors...Mathematically, with the spot paintings, I probably discovered the most fundamentally important thing in any kind of art, which is the harmony of where color can exist on its own, interacting with other colors in a perfect format” (Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, pp. 119-120).
Levamisole is a pristine example of Hirst’s most epic series, a body of work that touches upon his most important themes and motifs. Like the Medicine Cabinets and Pill paintings, the Pharmaceutical works reveal Hirst’s persistent probing of the boundary between science and art in an attempt to further explore the human condition; more specifically, society’s continued investigation and fixation on the pills and medicine that have been developed to cure whilst also taking the lives of the human body. Just as the Medicine Cabinets presented rows of empty pharmaceutical packaging, appropriated like tins of Campbell's Soup and arranged with the strict aesthetic unity of Donald Judd's progressions, on a purely formal level, there is an unabashed beauty in the candy-colored spots in their striking formal presentation and aesthetic presence. The spots, like the pills, are arranged according to a system which simultaneously creates and disrupts harmony, serving as a metaphor for the futility of the compulsive human desire to organize and classify the things we fear most in our bid to evade mortality.
However, the spot paintings underlying mortality is overshadowed by the bright and cheerful appearance of color. Indeed, despite his more notorious work in installation and sculpture, Hirst had always wanted to be a painter. He gloried in the variation of color, and loved his spot paintings above all for their exuberance. As Hirst stated, “I believe painting and all art should ultimately be uplifting for a viewer. I love color. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz" (Damien Hirst, I want to Spent the Rest of my Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Forever, Now, London 1997, p. 246).
The spot paintings are one of the artist’s most extensive standing series that consumed his creative output for over two decades of his diverse oeuvre. Hirst was still at Goldsmiths when he began to create works of this type. From very small spots just one millimeter in size to canvases that feature 60-inch spots, Hirst mined innumerable assemblies and color combinations. The Pharmaceutical painting subset, of which Levamisole is included, is the most prolific of the various spot series. In 2012, Gagosian Gallery presented The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, exhibiting an international retrospective of the spots, featuring more than three hundred works between their eleven galleries. The artist remarked of this multi-gallery installation, “it’s an assault on your senses. They grab hold of you and give you a good shaking. As adults, we’re not used to it. It’s an amazing fact that all objects leap beyond their own dimension” (Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 220).
In creating this schema whereby his spot paintings are fashioned, with its exact grid and distinctive circles of color, Hirst produces a system of creation with a limitless plane of discovery and optimism.
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