“I think an ashtray is the most fantastically real thing.”
Between 1995 and 1997, Hirst made four ashtray sculptures: ‘Horror at Home’; ‘Crematorium’; ‘Necropolis’; and ‘Party Time’. ‘Party Time’ (1995) was the first to be exhibited, in ‘No Sense of Absolute Corruption’ at Gagosian Gallery, New York, in 1996, whilst ‘Horror at Home’ was included in Hirst’s major solo show at The Saatchi Gallery in 2003. Explaining that artists “make art from what’s around them”, the sculptures magnify an ashtray to a diameter of eight feet. Each sculpture has one, two, three or four cigarette rests. The works contains over fifteen bin bags of remnants collected from the ashtrays of The Groucho Club, the London club Hirst frequented in the 1990s.
The ashtray sculptures emerged after Hirst witnessed human’s futile attempts to “reduce the horror” of smoking. He relates the absurdity of going to the beautiful house of a wealthy friend and finding a “tiny little ashtray ... you could only fit about three cigarette butts in it, then they’d empty it”.
Cigarettes are a recurring feature in Hirst’s work. He explains their appeal: “The whole smoking thing is like a mini life cycle. For me, the cigarette can stand for life. The packet with its possible cigarettes stands for birth, the lighter can signify God, which gives life to the whole situation, the Ashtray represents death […] being metaphorical is ridiculous, but it’s unavoidable.”
The titles of ‘Party Time’ (1995) and ‘Crematorium’ (1996), are symbolic of the life and death inherent within smoking. The artist explains: “I always believe in contradiction, compromise, it’s unavoidable. In life it can be positive or negative, like saying, ‘I can’t live without you.’”
‘Crematorium’ is included in Tate Modern’s 2012 ‘Damien Hirst’ survey.