“To create that structure, to do those colours, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour.”
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 Venoms. Venoms refer to those poisonous chemicals excreted from animals, chiefly snakes, bees and spiders. These chemicals are commonly applied to monitor and assist physiological processes such as the regulation of blood pressure, conduction of nerve impulses, immune responses and the regulation of cardiac rhythm, amongst others. The first Venoms painting was applied directly to a white wall in 1989, and the first painting on canvas dates from 1998. The series consists of grids of pastel coloured spots painted in household gloss 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.”