Butterfly colour painting

, 2012

‘The Four Elements (Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, Green and Blue)’ (2005). Photographed by Prudence Cumings Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

"You paint the walls white, and then life comes in and fucks it up. Like minimal paintings that have been fucked up by butterflies landing in paint."[1] 

Shortly after graduating, Hirst began work on a series of paintings inspired by seeing flies get stuck on primed canvases in his Brixton studio. Taking this idea but wanting to create something beautiful, Hirst started fixing the bodies of dead butterflies to monochrome gloss-painted canvases. The following year, he incorporated a number of similar works into ‘In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays)’ (1991), part of his installation titled ‘In and Out of Love’ (1991). Describing their visual effect as: “solid fucking gloss-paint horror,” the choice of household gloss is integral to the works, intended by Hirst to “look like an accident of paint with butterflies stuck on it”.[2]

For the artist, the appeal of butterflies is created largely by the appearance of life they retain in death. These paintings are the earliest example of his use of the insects, which were to become one of his most recognisable motifs. On their repeated appearance in his work he explains: “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.”[3]

[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), 136

[2] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 133

[3] Damien Hirst 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