Butterflies were one of the earliest sources of inspiration for Hirst, and have come to iconise his practice. Hirst first happened 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. 83). 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.). As a result, in 1991, Hirst implemented his career-launching In and Out of Love immersive piece in a travel agent’s in London. Black caterpillar pupae were embedded in the white paint of several canvases, with rows of potted flowers along their bases. The viewers' experienced the hatching of the butterflies, and their flying toward the flowers, as part of the work. 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.
Indeed, 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 from 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.). Similar, perhaps, to Jean Dubuffet who used butterfly wings in his 1950s assemblages based on the rural landscape of Vence, Hirst encourages the viewer to focus on the extraordinary – yet fragile – beauty of the natural world. Representing the very apotheosis of this formative concern, the painstakingly created Lullaby in Blue, although ostensibly morbid, nonetheless broadcasts a potent celebration of life.
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