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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, Damien Hirst: Superstition, 22 February–5 April 2007

  • Literature

    M. Wilner, Damien Hirst: Superstition, London, 2007, p. 101 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “ I think I’ve got an obsession with death, but I think it’s like a celebration of life rather than something morbid. You can’t have one without the other.” DAMIEN HIRST

    The nature of existence is a preoccupation woven through Damien Hirst’s extraordinary body of work. Drawing on the natural world, most famously in works such as The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), it is a preoccupation that he explores with wit, bravura and an inventive symbolism. His so-called butterfly paintings, of which Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled is a spectacular example, demonstrate well how Hirst’s art cleverly combines natural phenomena and the works and ambitions of man in the service of his themes religion, science and death, all the while subverting our expectations.

    Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled was included in the internationally renowned exhibition ‘Superstition’ at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills in 2007. The exhibition consisted of a substantial collection of Hirst’s butterfly paintings, and marked an extension of the artist’s so-called Kaleidoscope series which had begun in 2003 (Hirst’s first butterfly painting was exhibited at the Woodstock Street Gallery’s ‘In & Out of Love’ exhibition in1991).

    Hirst’s creation is not intended to simply remind us of the harsh reality of our eventual demise, but rather it is a subtle reference to the transience of existence. The ‘Sad Steps’ of the title is derived from a poem of that name by Philip Larkin in his 1974 collection High Windows. Larkin’s poetry is characterised by a certain fatality and despair in the face of life punctuated by the occasional moment of transcendence and hope (the ‘high windows’ of the collection’s title). As with much of Hirst’s work, Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled is intended as a visual metaphor for our own lives and for reflection: “I want to make artwork that makes people question their own lives, rather than give them any answers. Because answers always turn out to be wrong further down the line, but questions are exciting forever” (Damien Hirst, ‘Interview with Robert Ayers’, ARTINFO, 14 March2007).

    The present lot consists of thousands of meticulously organised butterfly wings, arranged in vibrant layers. The viewer, as the artist no doubt intends, is seduced by the splendour and symbolic power of the painting. Each wing makes an individual contribution to the pulsating, symmetrical patterns which dance across the work’s intricate surface.
    The rich diversity in shape, colour and size demonstrates the vast range of butterfly species used by Hirst when creating this monumental work. Yet the alarming nature of the work’s construction – thousands of dead butterflies glued to the surface – undermines the scale and beauty of the piece. Hirst’s insects are trapped forever in their geometric structure, simultaneously rendering both the beauty and cruelty of the natural world. The exquisite colours of the wings distracts us from the unsettling truth of the work’s making.

    Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled mimics the shape, colour and design of stained glass windows. There is common ground too in the immense amount of detail and specialisation required of the craftsmanship to make Hirst’s butterfly paintings and stained glass windows. There was no doubt a spiritual aspect to the making of the medieval windows which were designed to be didactic as well as uplifting and it is evident that Hirst intended this reference to reverberate in his own modern secular work. Experiencing the visual impact of Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled, especially in the way that it was installed in the ‘Superstition’ exhibition, is intended by the artist to evoke the feeling of reverence and awe as when seeing the windows of Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres, Canterbury or Notre- Dame de Paris. Yet, of course, Hirst’s butterfly paintings are viewed on a gallery wall with artificial light, subverting the very response that the works evoke.

    Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled is a highly complex work both in its construction and in its symbolism. Its beauty is in many ways a very modern one. It is breathtaking but it is also ironical, and it is easy to see how such works have made Hirst one of today’s most successful and important artists.

  • 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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Ο19

Sad Steps – Life Fulfilled

2006
butterflies and household gloss on canvas
227.6 × 121.9 cm (89 5/8 × 47 7/8 in)
Signed, titled and dated ‘Damien Hirst “Life Fulfilled” 2006’ on the reverse.

Estimate
£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £601,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 October 2012
London