Cancer, 2004



3658 x 3658 mm | 144 x 144 in
Flies and resin on canvas
Image: Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


Hirst’s series of fly paintings, partially inspired by Richard Serra’s ‘paintstick’ (1971– ongoing) works, relate back to the artist’s seminal fly vitrines, ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) and ‘A Hundred Years’ (1990). The artist recalls looking at the mass of fly corpses accumulated during the vitrines’ exhibition and thinking: “Oh my God! What have I done?” Continuing, Hirst explains: “I think it was Thomas Hobbes who said people are like flies brushed off a wall. I like that metaphorically. Your whole life could be like points in space, like nearly nothing. If you stand back far enough you think people are just like flies, the cycle of a fly is like your own life. When you make that connection with the paintings [...] it is like all the people in the world who die in a hundred years. That amount of death is pretty black.”[1] This painting, titled ‘Cancer’, contains an imprint of the biohazard symbol – universally recognised as a warning against harmful substances – which Hirst has created by layering the dead flies in varying degrees of thickness.

[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Like People, Like Flies: Damien Hirst Interviewed’, Mirta D’Argenzio, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989–2004’ (Electa Napoli, 2004), 94