5 February 2013
This February, White Cube Hong Kong present a solo exhibition of new works by Damien Hirst. The show features cabinets and paintings from the ‘Entomology’ series, begun in 2009, as well as ‘Scalpel Blade Paintings’ and ‘Colour Charts’. This major new body of work serves to further Hirst’s life long investigation into such thematic dualities as life and death, desire and fear, beauty and horror.
The ‘Entomology Cabinets and Paintings’ employ one of Hirst's most enduring “universal triggers” – the butterfly –here interspersed with thousands of highly coloured insects and spiders. The artist was initially drawn to the insects because, like the butterfly, they embody the fragility of life, retaining an iridescent beauty even in death. In the cabinets, beetles, butterflies and other insects are placed in precise, vertical or horizontal rows inside minimal and reflective, wall-mounted stainless steel frames. With each species arranged in separate rows, the overall effect is one of scientific ordering or industrial production. However, on closer inspection, this is undone by the slight mis-registration of their placement and small, subtle variations within each group. In the ‘Entomology Paintings’, Hirst uses similarly colourful insects, positioned in intricate mandala-like patterns onto Hammerite gloss paint. Like the cabinets, the paintings allude to both the opulent patterning and symmetry that exists in the natural world and to the ‘cabinet of curiosities’, or Victorian-era Natural History displays in which decorative visual effect was as important as scientific categorisation. The ‘Entomology Paintings’ relate closely to Hirst's earlier ‘Kaleidoscope’ series – in which thousands of butterfly wings are arranged on canvases often shaped like stained-glass windows – but are altogether darker in theme, alluding to zoological collections and titled after characters and locations from the Divine Comedy (c.1308-1321), Dante’s torturous vision of the underworld.
In the ‘Scalpel Blade Paintings’, Hirst continues his use of scientific and medical iconography, placing thousands of different types of scalpel blades in spectacular, kaleidoscopic patterns. Some of these paintings are starkly monochromatic, while others are intermittently layered with brightly coloured gloss paint. With the material transformation of a standard medicinal tool, these works relate to Hirst's early instrument cabinets, (see ‘Still’ and ‘Naked’ (both 1994)) in which thousands of precision-tooled surgical instruments are arranged in a formal and aesthetically pleasing manner, to create works whose beauty mask the inescapable futility of medicine in the face of our own mortality.
While both the ‘Entomology Paintings’ and ‘Scalpel Blade Paintings’ rely on assemblage and formal arrangement in their composition, colour theory is the primary organisational feature of the ‘Colour Charts’. Precisely executed in brilliant gloss paint, using primary, secondary and tertiary colours, these bold, Pop-like paintings further Hirst’s obsession – explored most famously with the spot painting series – with “pinning down the joy of colour.”
For more information please visit White Cube’s website.
 “I think rather than be personal you have to find universal triggers: everyone’s frightened of glass, everyone’s frightened of sharks, everyone loves butterflies,” cited in Damien Hirst, ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (Booth-Clibborn Editions; Reduced edition, 2005), 132
 Cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’, (Faber and Faber, 2001), 119
The artist discusses his major new body of work on the occasion of White Cube Hong Kong's solo exhibition.
Camera / Edit: Jon Lowe, whitecube.com/channel
All artwork photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2013