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  • Provenance

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

  • Literature

    G. Burn and D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 236 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The current lot is a stunning example of Damien Hirst’s early paintings of dots from the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ series. Grandly ambitious in scale, yet with a high-level of intimacy with the evidence of the hand in the comparably painterly application of paint within the dots, Amphotericin B stands out in the artist’s series. Hirst displays his characteristic wit combining the luscious visual pleasure of colors, with the subversive subject matter critiquing our overmedicated society.
    Taken as a whole, each work within Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ series represents the artist’s tireless investigation into the limitations of painting as a medium, while simultaneously exploring a societal fascination with medication and a lifestyle of prescription. In the present work, several hundred uniquely colored spots are arranged in a geometric grid, equidistant from one and other.This structure, which would normally lend itself to logic and order, is instead manipulated by Hirst and each spot’s subtle differentiation in pigment contributes to an overwhelming sense of chaos within the larger composition. It is by repeating the same form, the spot, where much of the success of these paintings is achieved. This sequence, or seriality, has been echoed by a number of Hirst’s predecessors, and can be seen clearly in Paul Klee’s color abstractions in the color theory paintings of Josef Albers and perhaps most directly in Gerhard Richter’s Color Charts of the 1960s and 1970s. Similar to Richter, Hirst too has succeeded in achieving a high level of mechanized control within his ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ while at once creating an environment filled with chance and randomness. He describes this result: “If you look closely at any one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colors there is no harmony.We are used to picking out chords of the same color and balancing them with different chords of other colors to create meaning. This can’t happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colors project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’s there. The horror underlying everything.The horror that can overwhelm everything at any moment.” (D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246)
    The title of this work Amphotericin B, takes its name from a chemical compound found in prescription medication. These titles, applied to each painting within the series, add to the scientific and systematic production method which is executed by Hirst and a team of studio assistants.This method is further defined by Hirst’s decision to create the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ as an endless series, as if a machine was at work. By mixing hundreds of different colors, each spot takes on its own identity, yet when placed amongst the larger group, it becomes part of a fluid visual exchange.
    Prior to, and during the same period in which Hirst was creating his spot paintings, he was developing another unique visual system with his medicine cabinets, by installing and exhibiting a series of cabinets stocked with prescription drugs. As a precursor to the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’, the medicine cabinets laid the framework for Hirst to explore not only the conceptual relationship of art and medicine, but also the compositional construct of the sculptures which then directly related to the choices made in his spot paintings.This attention to order and Hirst’s combinatory sensibility is present in much of his work. It can be seen in individual instances as varied as in his vessels of the early 90s, to cigarette butts organized on shelves, cast hand-painted pills in stainless steel cabinets, and even in the organization of fish submerged in Formaldehyde boxes. Each object is stripped of its identity; the fish, the pill, the cigarette, the color of the spot, each act as an accessory to a greater composition, rendering them totally equal and void of specific importance or emotion. “The grid structure allows no emotion. I want them to look like they’ve been made by a person trying to paint like a machine. I like this idea of a created painter, the perfect artist.” (Damien Hirst) In the present work, Hirst undeniably creates a dialogue between the emotional interaction with his painting, both by artist and viewer, and the implications of physical reactions to medication. It is not coincidental, then, that Hirst has linked the creation of the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ to memories of an early childhood experience involving the accidental use of prescription pills.Whether this encounter truly shaped the production of the spot paintings is unclear, however, the obsessive nature and repetition of the spots, as well as their candy-coated colors reflect a possible connection.
    Without any deep understanding of Hirst’s methodology or his interest in medicine and science, the present work can be appreciated as a unique and beautiful painting within a seminal series, whose colors run the spectrum and whose size and wall-power command immediate attention. The interplay of color and form create a visual dance, jumping from bright to dark, tricking the eye into seeing a pattern amongst the chaos. A system begins to unfold upon extended viewing and small patches or grids can be deciphered within the larger patterning. It is equally rewarding for one to work their way across the canvas from left to right or top to bottom, weaving amongst the spots.The present work is not only a stunning example within the ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’ series, but also a symbol of Hirst’s fascination with an over-medicated culture; both prescription and illicit, and the search for our societal mortality. Much of Hirst’s varied body of work has dealt with these heavily traded issues, along with birth, life, death, science, religion and medicine. Hirst’s understanding of the pervasive impact of medication on our culture along with our insatiable appetite for a quick-fix medication contributes to the psychological impact of the spot paintings and underpins his ability to touch on the universal theme of life and death.
    “…the power of modern science in shaping society continues to expand at unprecedented speed. Hirst captures the intrinsic duality of science as a beneficent instrument for improving human comfort and as a nihilist force for the subjugation of individual autonomy via homogenization of the mass consumer society, the chemical manipulation of mind and mood and proliferating electronic capabilities to monitor and control human behavior.”  (G. Poste ‘Revealing RealityWithin a Body of ImaginaryThings’ in D. Hirst,Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings, NewYork, 2000, pp. 113-114).
    Many of the formal considerations utilized in the present work; power of serial repetition, specific ordering, and balance of color are also trademarks in the best works of AndyWarhol, an artist Hirst is frequently compared to as a result of his high level of public visibility and ‘artist-as-celebrity’ status. Electric Chairs is just one in a long line of works created by Warhol in which his subject of choice’s imagehas been reproduced to a seemingly endless degree.This repetition and brooding color palate serves to emphasize the  tragic becoming mundane and everyday. Warhol, much like Hirst coolly used this sort of tragedy as fodder for his art. Although created nearly 20 years later, the present work occupies much of the same conceptual space which Warhol pioneered. The exaggerated horizontal format, dizzying repetition of shapes and colours, and rigorous production method is shared by both artists. More importantly, however, Warhol created, and Hirst continues to create, works with an emotional intensity and physical punch – works that require contemplation and investigation, yet can be appreciated on a purely surface level just the same. The subject matter, be it electric chairs or brightly colored dots, function as stand-ins, helping to articulate their shared interest in exploiting the tragic and grotesque for the sake of art. Hirst’s unique ability to slyly subvert, condense, package, order and re-present the weighty topics of life and death, science and medicine and consumption and abuse for his audience is epitomized in his ‘Pharmaceutical Paintings’. In the present work, Hirst creates a dynamic painting filled with a combination of visual playfulness and conceptual significance, and confirms his place within a small group of artists working today that can touch on deep emotions at opposite ends of the spectrum. 

  • Artist Biography

    Damien Hirst

    British • 1965

    There is no other contemporary artist as maverick to the art market as Damien Hirst. Foremost among the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group of provocative artists who graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London in the late 1980s, Hirst ascended to stardom by making objects that shocked and appalled, and that possessed conceptual depth in both profound and prankish ways.

    Regarded as Britain's most notorious living artist, Hirst has studded human skulls in diamonds and submerged sharks, sheep and other dead animals in custom vitrines of formaldehyde. In tandem with Cheyenne Westphal, now Chairman of Phillips, Hirst controversially staged an entire exhibition directly for auction with 2008's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," which collectively totalled £111 million ($198 million).

    Hirst remains genre-defying and creates everything from sculpture, prints, works on paper and paintings to installation and objects. Another of his most celebrated series, the 'Pill Cabinets' present rows of intricate pills, cast individually in metal, plaster and resin, in sterilized glass and steel containers; Phillips New York showed the largest of these pieces ever exhibited in the United States, The Void, 2000, in May 2017.

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Amphotericin B


Gloss household paint on canvas.

116 1/8 x 132 1/8 in. (295 x 335.9 cm).

$4,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $3,177,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York