The spot paintings are amongst Hirst’s most prolific and widely recognised works. In 1988, during the third and final stage of ‘Freeze’, Hirst painted two near-identical arrangements of coloured spots onto the wall of the warehouse. He called the works ‘Edge’ (1988) and ‘Row’ (1988). These paintings followed some loose hand-painted spots on board, dating from 1986, and the first spot work on canvas ‘Untitled (with Black Dot)’ (1988) – the only ‘Pharmaceutical’ painting ever to have incorporated a black dot. Following ‘Freeze’, Hirst started to refine his creative process. Slowly, he began to employ assistants to create the spot paintings. Any physical evidence of human intervention – such as the compass point left at the centre of each spot – was removed, until the works appeared to have been constructed mechanically, or “by a person trying to paint like a machine”. For Hirst, it was a departure from years of experimenting with paint and collage, and the first result of his search for a contemporary art form that could succeed without a reliance on “already organised elements.”
There are thirteen sub-series within the spot category. The titles for the paintings are taken from a pharmaceutical dictionary. The ‘Pharmaceuticals’ is the first and most prolific sub-series and are based on an infinite and random colour series in which no two shades are repeated within a painting. This work is part of a series of paintings named after Lipids. Lipids refer to a diverse group of naturally occurring organic compounds related by their solubility in nonpolar organic solvents and general insolubility in water. The first Lipids painting was a diptych applied directly onto a white wall in 1995, whilst the first work on canvas dates from 1996. The spots in the Lipids series are painted uniformly in a single colour, which varies between the different works. Household gloss is used to paint the grids of regularly spaced spots onto white backgrounds.
In 2012 Gagosian Gallery exhibited over 300 spot paintings across eleven gallery spaces worldwide. Conceived as a single exhibition, ‘The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011’ fulfilled Hirst’s longstanding ambition to show the works together. He explained in 2000, “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.”