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  • Provenance

     Lot 61 Restaurant, New York (on loan from 1998 – 2003)

  • Catalogue Essay

    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 coloured 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 colour abstractions (cf. Figure 1), in the colour theory paintings of Josef Albers and perhaps most directly in Gerhard Richter’s Color Charts (cf. Figure 2) 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 colours there is no harmony. We are used to picking out chords of the same colour and balancing them with different chords of other colours to create meaning.This can’t happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours 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 3-(5-Chloro-2-Hydroxyphenatylazo)-4,5-DIHYDROXY 2,7NAPHTALENEDISULFONIC ACID, 1998 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 colours, each spot takes on its own identity, yet when placed amongst the larger group, it becomes part of a fluid visual exchange. Figure 1. Paul Klee, Polyphonie, 1932 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 organisation of fish submerged in Formaldehyde boxes. Each object is stripped of its identity; the fish, the pill, the cigarette, the colour 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 colours reflect a possible connection. Hirst’s conscious decision to bring pharmaceuticals to the fore parallels that of many other artists who ventured into similar territory before him. Perhaps most successfully, and overtly, are Ed Ruscha’s floating amphetamines, painkillers and tranquilizer paintings, created during the late 1960s (cf. Figure 3) at the height of the west coast counter-cultural movement.This period in art and music was marked by casual recreational drug use which Ruscha elegantly riffed on in his floating object paintings. Although Hirst’s commentary is slightly more obscured, it is clear he understands the direction Ruscha was coming from and continues to expose the prevalence of drug-use in our culture within his series. Figure 2. Gerhard Richter, 256 Colors [256 Farben], 1974 Figure 3. Ed Ruscha, Amphetamines, Painkillers, Tranquilizers, 1969 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 colours run the spectrum and whose size and wall-power command immediate attention.The interplay of colour 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. Figure 4. Andy Warhol, One Hundred and Fifty Multicolor Marilyn, 1979 “…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 behaviour.” (G. Poste ‘Revealing Reality Within a Body of Imaginary Things’ in D. Hirst, Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings, New York, 2000, pp. 113-114). Many of the formal considerations utilised in the present work; power of serial repetition, specific ordering, and balance of colour are also trademarks in the best works of Andy Warhol, an artist Hirst is frequently compared to as a result of his high level of public visibility and ‘artist-as¬celebrity’ status. One Hundred and Fifty Multicolor Marilyn, 1979 (cf. Figure 4) is just one in a long line of works created by Warhol in which his subject of choice’s image, in this case Marilyn Monroe, has been reproduced to a seemingly endless degree. This repetition and brooding colour palate serves to emphasise Monroe’s image as a tragic figure in Warhol’s mind, her untimely death being a direct result of a barbiturate overdose. Monroe was a poster-child for chemical dependency and the abuses of prescription medication. 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 Marilyn Monroe or brightly coloured 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 epitomised 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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137

3-(5-CHLORO-2-HYDROXPHENYLAZO)-4, 5-DIHYDROXY-2, 7-NAPHTHALENEDISULFONIC ACID

1998
Household gloss paint on canvas.
213.4 x 518 cm. (84x204 in).
Signed ‘Damien Hirst’ on the reverse.

Estimate
£1,500,000 - 2,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,756,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

28 Feb 2008, 7pm
London