Lancet, 1983 - 1985

overview

Data

Lancet
1983 - 1985
305 x 394 mm | 12 x 15.5 in
Wood, metal, leather, paper, plastic, wool, paint, nails and glue
Image: Photographed by Stephen White © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Context

‘Lancet’ is one of a series of collages Hirst worked on from 1983 to 1987. “Bridging the gap” between paintings and sculptures, the collages provided a means for the artist to avoid “getting lost in the infinite possibilities of [painting]”.[1] Inspired by Kurt Schwitters and Harry Thubron, Hirst saw these works as constituting the re-arrangement of “already organised elements”, which then got “tumbled around with the other stuff and became things in their own right”.[2]

From 1984, the materials for the collages came largely from objects Hirst found in a neighbouring abandoned house in White Hart Lane, north London. Mr. Barnes, its recently evicted occupant, was a hoarder who’d amassed “sixty years of existence in one room” – in what Hirst describes as the “absolute ultimate [art work] that no one saw”.[3] On the importance of Mr. Barnes to his work during this period, Hirst has commented: “In the collages, I became Mr. Barnes, taking his stuff then collecting my own stuff.”[4]

At this time, Hirst was strongly influenced by Schwitters’s ‘Merz Pictures’, a series of early twentieth-century collages incorporating papers, wrappers and debris. The title was taken from the second syllable of the German word Kommerz (commerce), which Schwitters found on a random newspaper cutting. Hirst’s own collages resulted partly from his perception that the art scene had been failing since the 1950s. He explains: “I was looking at contemporary art and thinking it was shit, because of the way I was taught in school. I was thinking that all the beautiful art always existed in the past. But you go through college, and I suddenly realised that I’m walking round with my fucking head on the ground. And if you pick your head up, there’s fucking advertising billboards and TV and magazine images and fashion and design and film […] As soon as I lifted my head up off the ground, that’s when I realised that all the stuff I saw wasn’t shit.”[5]

After a year at Goldsmiths – and having seen the work of American artists such as Jeff Koons, Ashley Bickerton and Haim Steinbach as well as his Goldsmiths contemporaries Gary Hume, Ian Davenport and Michael Landy – Hirst realised that his attempts to “drag this sort of Schwitters mentality from the past into the future” were failing, and that he was basing the collages on a sense of “nostalgia that had been accumulated through age”.[6] This recognition led to Hirst’s early experimentation with Minimalism and colour in works such as ‘8 Pans’ (1987) and ‘Boxes’ (1988). It was, however, only with the spot paintings that Hirst “totally did away with the past”.[7] As he explains of this defining moment, he was sweeping the collages, and with them the Mr. Barnes mentality, “into a pile in the middle of the floor”, before being able to make the spot paintings.[8]



[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Thoughts, Work, Life’, (Drop Out Pictures, 2012); Damien Hirst cited in ‘Nicholas Serota Interviews Damien Hirst, 14th July 2011’, ‘Damien Hirst’ (Tate Publishing, 2012), 91

[2] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 124

[3] ibid., 51

[4] Damien Hirst cited in ‘An Interview with Damien Hirst’, Stuart Morgan, ‘No Sense of Absolute Corruption’ (Gagosian Gallery, 1996), 22

[5] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 119–120

[6] Ibid., 117, 121

[7] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Thoughts, Work, Life’ (Drop Out Pictures, 2012)

[8] Damien Hirst cited in ‘An Interview with Damien Hirst’, Stuart Morgan, ‘No Sense of Absolute Corruption’ (Gagosian Gallery, 1996), 22