Drawing has always been an essential part of Hirst’s creative process. Whilst his sculptural works are initially thought out through detailed sketches – often including precise dimensions and fabrication notes – he also draws obsessively for the sake of drawing. Numbering over 1, 500, this body of work points to Hirst’s use of the medium as a means of refining and exploring the ideas that sit at the heart of his entire artistic output. He also describes it as a good way to explore complicated ideas without incurring the costs involved in the fabrication of new works.
The importance of drawing to Hirst is affirmed by the three dedicated exhibitions he has presented. In 1994 he gave a show of spin drawings made by a spin machine crafted from an electric drill (illustrated in ‘Making Beautiful Drawings Machine’ (1993)). The exhibition, ‘making beautiful drawings’ at Bruno Brunnet Contemporary Fine Art in Berlin, invited visitors to buy Hirst’s or to make their own drawings for free as part of the installation. A decade later, Hirst was invited to show his first retrospective exhibition of drawings ‘From the Cradle to the Grave’ (2003) by the twenty-fifth Ljubljana International Biennale of Graphic Art after winning the Biennale Grand Prize for his print series ‘The Last Supper’. Following this exhibition, Gagosian Gallery, New York presented ‘Corpus’ in 2006: a large show of drawings spanning twenty-five years of the artist’s career, including works dating from Hirst’s teenage years, such as ‘Emma’ (1983) and ‘Study after Delacroix (the Orphan Girl in the Cemetery)’ (1981) – completed by the artist at the age of sixteen.
Sketches dating from 1989 on beer mats and magazine clippings reveal the earliest formulation of Hirst’s idea for the shark sculpture, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (1991). Whilst these rough drawings point to the conception of an idea, other plans such as those for the earliest ‘Natural History’ work ‘Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding’ (1991) reveal detailed workings for the dimensions and fabrication of the fish cabinet. Similarly, diagrams for early series of spot paintings, such as ‘Controlled Collage’ (1993), reveal the importance of the precise formulation of the grid structure and exact dimensions as conceived by Hirst. His vast catalogue of drawings includes not only plans for pieces realised, such as ‘Mother and Child Divided’ (1993), but also ambitious works as yet unrealised. For example, ‘The Last Supper with Skeletons’ (2003) is a drawing and notes for a large-scale sculptural re-imagining of Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ (late 1490s) made from human skeletons positioned around a table, divided by giant shards of broken glass.
The conceptual importance of drawing for Hirst is revealed in works such as ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1992), in which a tiny ink sketch of the vitrine, floats amidst a large expanse of white paper. That this drawing post dates the sculpture it depicts (‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1991)) reveals Hirst draws not only to plan works, but as part of his preoccupation to explore the themes of life, death and human experience. He also draws compulsively purely for the sake of drawing, frequently making rapid sketches as gifts or as portraits of friends. In 2002, for example, he made a rough pencil triptych of Michael Wojas, the owner of The Colony Room (a Soho bar frequented by Hirst in the 90’s), asleep on a train. In sketched plans for a cow dissected into quarters titled, ‘Can’t See the Wood for the Trees’ (1996), Hirst’s annotations point to the central role of the medium to his creative output and also as a means of constructing possible titles for works: “constructing spaces, drawings for sculptures, ideas become reality, making spaces, ideas made real, in search of reality, looking for Mr. Goodsex, nothing is problem for me, he tried to internalise everything, followed from a note, from head to paper.”