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, each named after a category of drug. The ‘Pharmaceutical’ paintings are 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 the ‘Tests, Reagents, Diagnostics and Random Samples’ series of spot paintings which dates from 1998. These works consist of unique, irregularly sized and coloured spots that rarely follow any uniform grid structure, painted onto white backgrounds. The individual spots are isolated examples of those included in the grids of other works in the spot painting series, and started out as studio tests.
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.”