In this series, Hirst's elaborate kaleidoscopic works are formed entirely of butterfly wings. The body of the butterflies have been omitted to draw sole attention to the delicate beauty of their wings, and form a clearcut abstract pattern. At the centre of each of the prints is a whole butterfly, from which the kaleidoscope seems to expand.
Butterflies have been a recurring theme throughout Hirst's artistic career. From his use of live, hatching butterflies in installations, to his repeated printing of their unique wings, Hirst foregrounded the butterfly as one of the central motifs in his oeuvre. Hirst himself expressed: "I love butterflies because when they are dead, they look alive."
Each print in Hirst's dizzying Cathedrals series takes its title from a famous cathedral around the world. In their symmetrical compositions, the works call to mind the stained-glass and the ornate domes that characterise the architecture of cathedrals.
In the year preceding his Cathedral series, Hirst staged his first exhibition in Los Angeles in over a decade, at Beverly Hills' Gagosian. The exhibition, titled Damien Hirst: Superstition, focused primarily on the motif of the butterfly. The monumental works shown at the exhibition used real butterflies to form the kaleidoscopic pattern which Hirst developed in the Cathedral series.
As the title of the works would suggest, religion is central to the prints forming the Cathedral series. Butterfly wings forms not only an abstract kaleidoscope, but also resemble the circular stained-glass witnessed in many churches and cathedrals. Instead of representing key moments from scripture, Hirst's iteration of stained-glass uses the motif of the butterfly alone to communicate messages of fleeting beauty and mortality.
For Hirst, the natural process of a butterfly being hatched from a cocoon symbolises the phenomenon of resurrection. The butterfly is also a popular motif for resurrection in Christianity, representing the metamorphosis from death to life.
The oeuvre of Hirst is alluringly macabre, marrying the morbidity of death with the beauty of life. As a favoured Christian motif, the butterfly speaks to Hirst's fascination with religion, while the aspect of taxidermy in many of his butterfly works attests to his occupation with science. Essentially, the butterfly is a delicate reminder of the fragility of life itself.
Hirst's entire body of work reflects his near-obsession with death. His butterflies, which seem on the brink of taking flight, symbolise the ultimate release of death from the tribulations of life.
Using both real and printed butterflies, Hirst has created butterfly kaleidoscopes throughout his artistic career. The winged insects, which are naturally vibrant, form hypnotic symmetrical patterns that have an infinite appeal.
The butterfly is an insect which is inherently beautiful. By reducing the butterfly to its wings alone, Hirst forms his kaleidoscopes with the most alluring part of their body alone. Though the butterflies in the prints are dead, the seemingly endless pattern they create alludes to the continuous cycle of life.