Universal, timeless and immediately recognisable, when you think of Damien Hirst, chances are his Spots prints are what spring to mind.
It was 2 years before his seminal group show, back in 1986, that Hirst painted some loose hand-painted Spots on board. This was followed by his first Spots work on canvas Untitled (with Black Dot) in 1988. At Frieze, Hirst painted two near-identical arrangements of coloured spots onto the wall of the warehouse. He called the works Edge and Row.
The Spots paintings, on which this set of prints are based, form the basis for an endless exploration of colour and form. Indeed, Hirst has only occasionally halted production of his Spots paintings in his career, continually returning to them with a new variation, each associated with a specific drug group.
Adding a factory-like approach to his practice, Hirst began to employ assistants to create his Spot works. This means that Hirst can produce a near-endless number of Spot prints.
Any physical evidence of human intervention, for instance the mark of a compass point left at the centre of each spot, was removed, until the works appeared to have been constructed mechanically, or “by a person trying to paint like a machine” as he put it.
Hirst has commented on the exploration of colour in his Spots paintings, explaining, “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. We are used to picking out chords of other colours to create meaning. This can’t happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease: the colours project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’s there.”
Beyond the aesthetic qualities of the work, the name of each piece holds a crucial clue as to their possible meaning. The names are chemicals, which indicate each piece is a set of pills, a code or genetic structure that contains the bi-products of the stated name.
In order to choose the names for his Spots paintings, each named after pharmaceuticals, Hirst bought the Physicians’ Desk Reference. This is a compilation of information on prescription drugs used by manufacturers, that is published commercially and updated every year.
Each print uses the grid-formula to explore various colour combinations, each spot a different colour and each composition unique in its colour placements. Despite the way in which this print appears to be formulaic, the Spot prints retain a sense of expressiveness in their choice of colour that is informed by intuitive logic.
Hirst has produced well over 1000 Spot paintings in total, with the help of his assistants, since their beginnings in 1988.
According to rumours in the art world, Hirst is reportedly working on a spot painting comprising one million spots. The work will apparently take around 9 years to complete.