10 Facts About Damien Hirst's 40 Woodcut Spots

Set against a white backdrop, this print shows a grid of spots, each a different colour and arranged methodically in nine rows of twelve.Doxylamine © Damien Hirst 2011
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Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

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Widely beloved and discussed by the contemporary art world, Damien Hirst has left a permanent mark with his audacious and often provocative creations. Since his emergence in the late 1980s as a pivotal figure of the Young British Artists movement, Hirst has consistently challenged, intrigued and at times shocked the art world. Among his myriad contributions, his spot paintings stand out as a defining element of his artistic lexicon. Characterised by rows of randomly coloured circles, these paintings raise contemplative questions about structure, randomness and life's inherent order and chaos. In an effort to make these motifs more widely available, Hirst created the series of prints 40 Woodcut Spots.


40 Woodcut Spots is one of Hirst's largest print editions

The square print shows five rows of spots that are identical in size and shape, each depicting a unique colour.Thr-Ser © Damien Hirst 2011

Each iteration of the work appears in an edition of 55, showing huge variety across his signature dot motif. The spot paintings first appeared in the Freeze exhibition that Hirst curated in 1988, and have since then become synonymous with the artist. These original works were hand-painted, messy and complete with paint dripping down an 8ft-by-12ft panel. 40 Woodcut Spots marks a more mature phase of this motif, with a more mechanical and clean look.


Each print is named after a chemical compound

A pink circle in the centre of a canvas, against a white background.Picrotoxin © Damien Hirst 2011

Each print is named after a chemical compound that is found in nature, with names like Doxylamine, Quisqualic Acid and Ethylamine. The prints expand on Hirst's fascination with scientific and pharmaceutical themes, a profound exploration of the interplay between life, death and human attempts at control. Reminiscent of his early medicine cabinets that encapsulate our reliance on and belief in pharmaceuticals, his spot paintings mirror the uniformity of pills.


Hirst's spots are all about the harmony of colour and composition

The print shows various coloured spots arranged methodically into four rows of three. Each spot is a different hue, in a warm colour palette.Manganese Chloride © Damien Hirst 2011

He has stated that "mathematically, with the spot paintings, I probably discovered the most fundamentally important thing in any kind of art, which is the harmony of where colour can exist on its own, interacting with other colours in a perfect format."


No colour is repeated twice on the same canvas

The print is a square composition with four circles positioned in each corner. Set against a plain white backdrop, the spots are depicted in flattened colours of yellow, sky blue, khaki green and royal blue.Nifedipine © Damien Hirst 2012

This is part of Hirst's attempts to create a dynamic composition, where the circles -- imprinted in flat, black hues -- interact with one another to create the illusion of movement through repetition.


The prints come in a variety of shapes

The print shows a large red spot on the left of the composition and a turquoise semi-circle of the same size at the right-hand edge of the print.Picolinic Acid © Damien Hirst 2011

While most prints are square or traditionally rectangular in shape, not all of them are. Some prints such as Picolinic Acid, Ferric Acid Citrate and Cesium Sulfate come in a very narrow horizontal rectangle.


The prints are an evolution of the automation of the Spot paintings

amien Hirst’s Esculetin depicts twenty circles of colour placed in a grid on a white backdrop.Esculetin © Damien Hirst 2011

While Hirst has caught some flack from the art world for having "only painted 3 or 4" of his spot paintings, with most of them being done by assistants, the prints pose no such qualms. They can be seen as an evolution and democratisation of his creative process, which lies more in the conception of the works than in the actual fabrication.


Hirst has produced over 1,400 Spot works

The print shows a perfect circle in blue, positioned in the centre of the square composition, set against a plain white backdrop.Equilin © Damien Hirst 2011

When counting both paintings and prints, Hirst and his studio have created over a thousand spot works since his first Freeze compositions in 1988. The works' enduring popularity speaks of their fun and dynamic nature.


Their variations in execution are important to Hirst's journey as an artist

The print shows a perfect circle in blue, positioned in the centre of the square composition, set against a plain white backdrop.Isostearic Acid © Damien Hirst 2011

Of the variations in imperfections in his spot works, Hirst has said: "At the very beginning of my spot painting career I made some messy spots and I hated them, so I perfected them into perfect dots. For 25 years I made perfect dots. At the very end, I went back to the first ones - I made two or three - and I thought, I’m just going to make these messy ones again. And I really liked them."


The appeal of the Spot works lies in their simplicity

This print shows three rows of three spots, identical in size and shape, in varying colours.Glycine Cresol Red © Damien Hirst 2011

According to Henrik Riis, CEO of Eyestorm -- the gallery responsible for commissioning many of the most iconic Spot paintings in 2000 -- the Spot works appeal to so many because "they are so visibly easy to understand for many people. From a communication perspective they are simple. Most people do not know the story behind the series, but they instantly know that a Spot print is a Hirst. This is what gives them their ‘wow’ factor and why so many people want to hang them in their homes."


Hirst uses the woodcut technique to create them

The print is a landscape-oriented composition showing four rows of five spots, every spot the same size and each a different colour.Fast Scarlett TR Base © Damien Hirst 2011

Woodcut printing is one of the oldest techniques of printmaking, originating in China in the 9th century. It involves carving a design into the surface of a wooden block, leaving the areas to be printed raised. Once the design is carved, ink is applied to the block's surface, and then the block is pressed onto paper or fabric. The result is a print that mirrors the carved design. Due to its handcrafted nature, each woodcut print can have unique variations, adding to their charm and individuality.

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