Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Damien Hirst
B. 1965
signed on the reverse
butterflies, glass, scalpel blades, rosary, crucifix, religious medals and household gloss on canvas
215 by 215 cm. 84 5/8 by 84 5/8 in.
Executed in 2008.
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White Cube, London

Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2008


Sometimes Life Is Really, Really, Really Dark dramatically exemplifies Damien Hirst’s enduring obsession with the symbolic and aesthetic portent of butterflies. For Hirst, butterflies utterly embody the poignant beauty of life and death; though their lives are fleeting, their wings belie the passing of time and their vitality is preserved, even post-mortem. In the present work, exquisite butterfly wings lie scattered across a high-gloss base of abyssal black paint and are joined by a profusion of metaphorically rich compositional elements. Alongside butterflies, scalpel blades, rosary beads, and religious medals together comprise the Hirst holy trinity: science, religion, and death.

The butterfly paintings started life when Hirst observed flies becoming stuck onto primed canvases in his Brixton studio. In 1991 he would transform this idea by swapping flies for a more pointedly beautiful and delicate creature - the butterfly. In comparison to Hirst’s preliminary works which consist of butterflies haphazardly dispersed as though accidentally stuck in thick gloss paint, the present work offers a more complex rendering of the same theme. Here, butterflies are presented in more enigmatic circumstances, placed within a whirlwind of scalpel blades, rosary beads, and crucifixes against a slick black ground. Starkly contrasted against the dark monochromatic surface, the fragile yet radiant butterfly wings appear as though floating in space within the infinite void of a black hole. Along with the cosmological, Hirst references religion through his use of crucifixes, while scalpel blades invoke the clinical and medicinal; thus demonstrating a dramatic exploration in which religion and science collide: “I like the confusion you get between science and religion… that's where belief lies and art as well' (Damien Hirst in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist in: Exh. Cat., London, White Cube, Beyond Belief, 2007, pp. 26-27).

Hirst’s Catholic upbringing, combined with weekends spent working at a mortuary, undoubtedly nurtured an urge to consistently confront the difficulties faced by religion in the contemporary moment: “That whole idea of religion today, it is beheaded. It doesn't quite function. There is something missing... it has got problems” (Damien Hirst cited in: Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Damien Hirst, 2004, p. 221). In Sometimes Life Is Really, Really, Really Dark the juxtaposition of the crucifix and the butterflies present a reference to the divine, while the razor-blades and shattered glass suggest violence and the potential of redemption and immortal life through devotion and sacrifice. If this vast black space represents the universe and the vacuum of a black hole, then the work also echoes Hirst’s own comments on religion’s role as “filling a void” (Damien Hirst in conversation with Sean O ‘Hagan in:  Exh. Cat., London, Paul Stolper Gallery, Damien Hirst: New Religion, 2006, p. 12). The void here is the monochromatic canvas, upon which catholic symbols invoke the role of religion and its assurance of immortal life after death. However, while the profusion of razors invokes the violence of sacrifice, these scalpel blades nonetheless belong to the world of medicine and science. Sterile and disposable, scalpel blades conjure images of dissection and delicate surgery; the means of corporeal salvation and longevity through empirical knowledge. Thus, Hirst combines semiotic referents from the two pillars of faith in the contemporary age – religion and science – to create a new affirmative artistic language in the face of our inescapable mortality. As explained by Hirst:  “I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid” (Damien Hirst cited in: Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 21). Herein, Sometimes Life Is Really, Really, Really Dark is a magnificent example of Hirst’s later butterfly paintings in which the ephemera of science and religion find juxtaposition against the delicate iridescence of perfectly preserved butterfly wings. Cosmological in appearance, this work represents a perfect microcosm of the Hirst universe.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction