In 1997 Hirst created a work by gluing thousands of flies’ bodies onto a canvas. He explains: “I think I am just looking at things from very far away. You get a kind of black... I think what makes me ever do anything is if there is something kind of humorous, which is always good. You do it for stupid reasons, but then you find something out that is really good.” Five years after making the initial piece and inspired by Richard Serra’s black paintstick drawings, Hirst returned to the fly paintings. Refining the fabrication process, he began a series of paintings using resin.
The paintings relate back to Hirst’s fly vitrines ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) and ‘A Hundred Years’ (1990). He recalls looking at the mass of fly bodies 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, like 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.”
Works from the series were first exhibited in ‘Romance in the Age of Uncertainty’ at White Cube, Hoxton Square, London in 2003, in a suite of thirteen paintings called ‘The Cancer Chronicles’, each titled after modern diseases. Hirst included four fly paintings – ‘Typhoid’; ‘AIDS’; ‘Genocide’; and ‘Holocaust’ – in his 2004 retrospective, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. The paintings were identical in size to the four ‘Medicine Cabinets’ Hirst selected for his Goldsmiths degree show in 1989.