Apparition

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  • Provenance

    The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A mesmeric mandala of carefully coordinated colours, Apparition captures the viewer’s attention with Damien Hirst’s signature unusual choice of medium. Approaching the canvas as though looking through the lens of a kaleidoscope we are met by a brocade of butterfly wings that emerge in organised opulence across the canvas.

    An exemplary work from Hirst’s renowned series of Kaleidoscope paintings, Apparition is an iconic meditation on the universal themes of the beautiful fragility of life and the looming presence of death. Beginning in 2001 with It’s a Wonderful World, this series was inspired by a Victorian tea tray Hirst acquired. Works from the Kaleidoscope series were first exhibited at White Cube in London in 2003 and then at his 2007 solo show, Superstition, at Gagosian in London and Beverly Hills. Death is turned on its head in this unsettling gorgeous display, which contrasts with the traditional respect and reverence reserved for loss. The present work therefore forces us to re-evaluate our own patterns of grief and thoughts surrounding mortality. The concept of death is reformulated in Apparition in line with Hirst’s viewpoint: ‘I’ve got an obsession with death … But I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid’ (Damien Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, 2001, p. 21). The cyclical arrangement of butterfly wings further enhances the painting’s hypnotic effect, whilst simultaneously evoking the on-going nature of life and death. There is an element of the infinite instilled within Hirst’s canvas. Through the endless repetition of wings Hirst encapsulates the boundlessness of existence and the unknown expanse of death.

    The butterflies in Apparition reflect the ephemerality of the work’s title as they appear as if an ethereal vision, hypnotising the viewer whilst concomitantly drawing attention to the elements of irony inherent in its title. This apparition will not fade away, for the butterflies have been fixed to the canvas and, deprived of their freedom, cannot disappear. Our eyes are drawn into the centre where a single intact butterfly is suspended amidst the massacre of body parts, a suggestion of hope, peace and innocence instilling a sense of tranquillity following the visual chaos of colours. Invoking Jean Dubuffet’s intricately arranged butterflies in his 1955 work Paysage aux argus, the textural web of Apparition envelops the viewer in a grand veil of butterfly wings.

    Drawing inspiration from the mandalas used in the spiritual and ritual symbols of Hinduism and Buddhism, Hirst adopts an innovative adaptation of traditional form. In doing so he creates his own spiritual symbol for the omnipresence of death and the contemplation of what it means to exist. Simultaneously, Apparition evokes the stained glass windows, particularly the Rose Windows, found in churches and cathedrals. The impact that stained glass windows have had upon Hirst’s artistic imagination is evident in his work South Rose Window, Lincoln Cathedral, 2007, created only a year before the present lot. Butterflies play a significant symbolic role in Christian iconography through their signification of resurrection, as well as in Greek mythology where they are used to depict Psyche, the Greek Goddess of the soul. Arranged geometrically and placed in household paint, the butterflies in Apparition are an appeal to the viewer’s soul, to lift it up into a liminal place of transcendence. Hirst thereby essentially raises the status of his works to this same level of spiritual magnanimity. By conglomerating various religious influences, Hirst attempts to create a universal spiritual symbol with universal appeal.

    Stained glass windows have proved an influential artistic medium inspiring numerous contemporary artists such as Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Marc Chagall and Wim Delvoye who have all provided their own unique artistic twist on this traditional method of craftsmanship. Sigmar Polke’s stained glass windows in Zurich’s Grossmünster church are a particularly interesting comparison when analysing Hirst’s Kaleidoscope paintings. Polke, like Hirst, chooses to deviate from the traditional medium of glass and instead works with thin slices of cut gemstones fusing them together in a mosaic of colours that allows light to be filtered through. This innovative use of natural materials echoes Hirst’s decision to work with butterflies, relying upon the organic colours produced by nature rather than dyeing the material.

    In the present work, Hirst utilises the iridescent wings of the butterfly, fragments that create a shimmering mirage. Removing the body, Hirst presents us with the perfected and edited image that one associates with the butterfly, editing out the integral, but unattractive body of the insect. In his prolific oeuvre, Hirst explores the mind’s ability to shut out the ugly and unnerving in favour of recalling the beautiful aspects of life. Butterflies for Hirst are a symbol of idealised beauty and the human capacity to overlook what frightens or alarms us; death, for Hirst, functions in the same way. Apparition, therefore, is a means of making death approachable, whereby the multitude of multi-coloured butterflies coalesce to form a harmonious celebration of life in this strikingly innovative work from Hirst’s extraordinary oeuvre.

  • Artist Bio

    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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Apparition

signed, titled, stamped and dated 'Damien Hirst "Apparition" 2008 HIRST' on the reverse; further stamped 'HIRST' on the stretcher
butterflies and household gloss on canvas, in artist's frame
232 x 323.7 x 13 cm (91 3/8 x 127 1/2 x 5 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2008.

Estimate
£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £609,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018