Poetically variegated across a colossal expanse of individual chromatic circles, the cellular kaleidoscopic field of Aldosterone 18, 21-Diacetate-3-(0-Carboxymethyl)oxime:BSA (1992) is a majestic example of Hirst’s most renowned series of work: the ‘Pharmaceutical’ paintings. The present work constitutes one of the earliest of Hirst’s ‘Spot’ paintings—the overarching series to which the Pharmaceutical paintings belong—thereby not only belonging to a seminal series within the artist’s oeuvre, but also embodying a historical representation of such. The contrast in this work between the organizational composition of 132 regularly spaced 4-inch spots and the uniquely colored dots on the brilliant white surface provides the viewer with a stimulating visual experience, one that is truly representative of the project that embodies Hirst’s highly influential artistic practice.
As one of the thirteen sub-series within the Spot painting category, the Pharmaceutical paintings remains the first and most prolific. Each Spot painting shares a certain set of properties: the spots are arranged on a grid made invisible by a white or off-white background; no two spots on a given work touch each other; and no hue is ever repeated on the same work. First conceived alongside the Medicine Cabinets, this body of work is imbued with the same measured rational order and pleasing formal cogency as his pharmacy store vitrines. “I started them as an endless series,” explains Hirst, “a scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life” (Damien Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, 1997, p. 246). Furthering this conversation between his paintings and the medical practice, Hirst concocted the title of this particular artwork from an alphabetical listing of drug names cited in the Sigma-Aldrich chemical company catalogue that he first encountered in the early 1990s. Hence, the Pharmaceutical paintings as well as the spots themselves can be read as signifiers for individual pills.
The Spot paintings were originally conceived as an endless series of paintings in which the choice of size, variation of color and number of spots on each painting were systematically infinite. Like a true scientist, Hirst expertly mixed hundreds of tones and shades of each color in the spectrum in a controlled experiment. Organized only by the structure of the circular colored discs evenly spaced on the white background in a grid-like formation, Hirst worked through his experimentations with color and scale in a highly logical manner. His canvases range from Iodomethane- 13c (1999-2000), a 40-foot canvas containing 1 inch spots, to L-Isoleucinol (2008-2011), which measures 10 by 16 inches and contains 25,781 one millimeter spots. No one color seems to be privileged over another, and thus no hierarchy is implied. This even-handedness, where color relationships are coolly, carefully balanced, puts forward a draughtsman-like rigor to the canvas. Hirst has stated that “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 cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, 2001, p. 120).
With its perfectly oriented spots, the present work is a captivating experience for the viewer—even delicious and candy-like—as per Hirst’s intent. However, there is a certain problematization that comes to light in this painting, namely inherent in the implied celebration of a heavily mediated and medicated postmodern experience. Such discourse has become even more so magnified in recent years as evidenced by the ongoing opioid and pharmaceutical drug crises. That Hirst’s Pharmaceutical paintings would only increase in cultural relevance in the nearly three decades since their inception is a testament not only to the prescient nature of their creator, but also to the importance of Aldosterone 18, 21-Diacetate-3-(0-Carboxymethyl)oxime:BSA in particular. Ever in touch with allusions and theoretical discourse, Hirst rescues the age-old artistic genre of the grid from Modernist hands and returns it back to its original roots in scientific thought and genetic structure. In this way, the work’s apparent simplicity of form is counterbalanced by its complexity of content, so that this painting, while relying to a certain degree purely on its visual appeal, also possesses an arresting intellectual punch characteristic of Damien Hirst’s process.
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