DAMIEN HIRST | Loving You
- Damien Hirst
- Loving You
- butterflies and household gloss on canvas
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1995
Butterflies were one of the earliest sources of inspiration for Hirst, and have appeared frequently throughout his career to date. He first alighted upon the idea of incorporating insects into his works by chance. As he recalled: “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” (Damien Hirst cited in: Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Damien Hirst: The Agony and the Ecstasy, 2004, p. 74). Hirst subsequently went on to recreate this effect using butterflies: “I [wanted] it to look like an artist’s studio where he had wet coloured canvases and the butterflies had landed in them” (Ibid.).
The present work is directly related to Hirst's seminal 1991 installation: In & Out of Love. Held in a former travel agent’s office, this immersive work comprised brightly coloured monochrome butterfly paintings similar in aesthetic to Loving You, and a set of white monochrome canvases onto which Hirst attached live butterfly pupae. Bowls of sugar water placed near the ‘pupae’ canvases allowed the hatchling butterflies to feed and mate. The butterflies live metamorphosis from pupae to fully grown breeding adults effectively served as a miniature illustration of the complete cycle of life and death. The unique paradox of beauty in death is a resounding theme throughout Hirst's practice. His earliest and perhaps most iconic iteration of this is the tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde: The Phyiscal Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). Furthermore, as a shocking antecedent to the picturesque butterflies of In and Out of Love, the 1990 installation A Thousand Years incorporated not just live flies but an Insect-O-Cutor and a severed cow’s head to create a dark spectacle of birth, death, and decay. However, above all, it is the remarkable ability of the butterfly to retain its physical beauty even in death that has provided a compelling and enduring source of artistic and emotive potency for Hirst. As he has emphatically explained: “Then you get the beauty of the butterfly… The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing” (Ibid., p. 83). In this respect, Loving You is a seminal early work that invites meditation and contemplation. It encourages the viewer to focus on the extraordinary – yet fragile – beauty of the natural world and perfectly encapsulates Hirst's continued spiritual and philosophical exploration into the vulnerability and transience of life.