Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I was always a colourist. I’ve always had a phenomenal love of colour […] So that’s where the Spot paintings came from. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of colour.' —Damien HirstCombining the tondo format of the Spin Paintings with the methodical application of precisely formed dots that characterise the iconic Spot Paintings, Zinc Sulphide is a mesmerising example of one of Damien Hirst’s most important and instantly recognisable series. Spanning over a quarter of a century, Hirst’s Spot Paintings have become synonymous with the artist himself, and have proven to be a remarkably versatile motif, given its strict limitations. Breaking with the more familiar grid-like arrangement of spots along strict vertical and horizontal lines, Zinc Sulphide presents the multichromatic spots in a series of concentric circles, radiating out from a central, butter-yellow dot. Meticulously organised, the crisply rendered dots come vividly alive within this tight circular format, exaggerating the optical interplay that is so characteristic of this celebrated series of works.

    A sophisticated presentation of the artist’s abiding interest in colour and its organisation, Zinc Sulphide strikes a balance between art and science that has proven to be an abiding conceptual touchstone for Hirst’s practice. Its title appropriately referencing the inorganic compound most commonly used to create pigments and luminescent materials.


    Early Spots


    Damien Hirst, Row, 1988, © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022. Photo: Edward Woodman
    Damien Hirst, Row, 1988. Image: Edward Woodman, Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022.

    Absolutely foundational to Hirst’s oeuvre, the first spots were painted directly onto the Surrey Docks warehouse wall in the final phase of the now legendary Freeze exhibition curated by Hirst when he was an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths in 1988. Deeply revealing to the conceptual currents that run across Hirst’s entire oeuvre, the artist described this seminal show in terms not so far removed from the Spot Paintings themselves explaining: ‘I found I could work with already organised elements. And I suppose in Freeze the artists were kind of already organised elements in themselves and I arranged them.’i As with his slightly earlier Medicine Cabinets, Hirst found that setting himself certain limitations – the organising framework of the grid or glass-fronted cabinet; the size and colour of his forms; the number of spots or pills included in each work – generated an infinite variability.
    'The grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system.' —Damien Hirst

    Touching on a legacy of 20th century avant-garde practice that employed chance and randomisation as formative compositional tools, alongside these judiciously maintained limitations Hirst introduced an element of chance into his practice. In the case of the suite of twelve medicine cabinets that Hirst presented for his degree show in 1988, he assigned tracks from the 1977 Sex Pistols album as titles. Stumbling across the catalogue of chemical company Sigma- Aldrich’s ‘Biochemicals for Research and Diagnostic Reagents’, Hirst expanded this principle by assigning titles for works at random, treating the catalogue as a vast and random title-generator perfectly attuned to his vision for the possibly infinite variety of the Pharmaceutical Paintings.

    Rendered in uniquely mixed hues of household paint no two spots of the same colour appear on any one canvas, with remarkably versatile results. As Hirst quickly discovered with one of the first spot painting’s inclusion of a black dot, the colours possessed a remarkable mutability when placed next to one another, some appearing to recede while others jumped forwards in a manner that references Bridget Riley and Larry Poon’s foundational Op Art experiments of the 1960s.


    Larry Poons, Untitled, 1964, Davis Museum and Cultural Centre, Wellesley. Image: © Davis Museum at Wellesley College / Gift of Joan and Roger Sonnabend / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Larry Poons. VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2022

    Meticulously spaced so that the gap between each spot is identical to the spot itself, the pattern of Zinc Sulphide achieves the remarkable effect of refusing to resolve. As Michael Bracewell describes, drawn to ‘the warmer-coloured spots, the gaze then encounters seeming sudden diagonals, verticals or broken lines of semi-coherence; look again, and even these fleeting spooks of visual sense turn out to be illusions.’ii Yet, despite this energetic activity, the work achieves an incredible compositional balance and harmony rooted in the methodical, scientific approach to the composition based on a philosophy of chromatic relationships and their manipulation. Despite our attempts to resolve the spots that seems to float and vibrate against one another, our eye struggles to reconcile the tensions established between the colours, a deliberate strategy of the artist who explains: ‘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... 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.’iii


    Collector’s Digest


    •    Coming to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the group identified by collector and gallerist Charles Saatchi as a generation of ‘Young British Artists’, Damien Hirst is best known for his boundary-pushing sculptures of animals submerged in formaldehyde, his series of medicine cabinets, and his celebrated Spot Paintings.


    •    Since 1998 when the artist curated his seminal Freeze exhibition including work from his Goldsmith’s peer group, Hirst has continued to exhibit internationally, with major shows at Tate Modern in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Examples of his work can be found in major institutions including the Tate, London; the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


    •    Most recently, Hirst’s Spot Paintings have been reimagined once again with his series of Veil Paintings, a looser, more gestural treatment of the motif that nevertheless still adheres to the same basic principles of the foundational series as an investigation into chromatic behaviour. 

    i Damien Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 124. 
    ii Michael Bracewell, ‘Art Without the Angst’, in Jason Beard and Millicent Willner, ed., Damien Hirst, The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, n.p. 
    iii Damien Hirst (I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, 1997, p. 246). 

    • Provenance

      Rafael Jablonka, Germany (acquired directly from the artist)
      Sotheby's, New York, 15 May 2013, lot 474
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Millicent Wilner and Jason Beard, eds., The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 - 2011, New York, 2013, no. 291, p. 844, (illustrated, p. 291)

    • 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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Zinc Sulfide

household gloss on canvas
diameter 182.9 cm (72 in.)
Executed in 2004.

Full Cataloguing

£350,000 - 550,000 ‡♠

Sold for £346,500

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022