Damien Hirst Yields $20m Payday With Heni Editions
The Beautiful Paintings

A series of Hirst's machine-generated spin paintings, in varying colour-ways and patterns. Image © Heni / The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst 2023
Jasper Tordoff

Jasper Tordoff, Specialist[email protected]

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In his most recent collaboration with Heni Editions, Damien Hirst presents The Beautiful Paintings. The limited series, released as both physical and NFT artworks, invited collectors to produce their own iterations of Hirst's iconic Spin Paintings. Using a machine learning algorithm, The Beautiful Paintings are totally customisable by: size, format, design, colour-way, and even the title of the artwork. The ‘revolutionary’ artwork blurs the boundaries between digital and physical art creation, and has been met with equal measures of success and uncertainty.

One thing however is certain: The Beautiful Paintings testify to Hirst's technological innovation and his firm grip on the commercial appeal of his art. Yielding over $20million from this AI-generated series, Hirst shows himself to be a formidable marketer-cum-artist once again.

Released as a limited ‘drop’ on 31 March 2023, which closed on 10 April, Hirst's The Beautiful Paintings caused an immediate media buzz. As the crowned King of Controversial Art, Hirst has never shied away from a contentious stunt in his artwork: from formaldehyde animals to the performative burning of his own work. Following his previous collaboration with Heni in 2022, titled The Currency, Hirst returns to Heni with The Beautiful Paintings: continuing his controversial print and NFT stint.

Damien Hirst burning his 1,000 Currency artworks © Heni 2022

Hirst and Heni: From The Currency to The Beautiful Paintings

With The Currency (2022), Hirst sold an edition of 10,000 of his iconic Spot Paintings, with a correlating edition of 10,000 NFT artworks. However, the collector could only choose to keep one version of the artwork upon purchase. This triggered a rather philosophical dilemma: save the physical artwork and destroy the NFT, or save the NFT and watch the physical artwork burn - literally. Hirst himself kept 1,000 of these artworks in NFT form, meaning that he had to burn his own art for the first time. The artist burned these artworks - one by one - at a special event on 11 October 2022. The series drew into question the validity of NFTs as an art-form in their own right, and whether physical art - in the traditional sense - was dying.

Unlike The Currency, Hirst's recent The Beautiful Paintings allowed collectors choose whether they wanted their artwork produced as a physical piece, an NFT, or both. No artworks were destroyed this time, but the inclusion of NFTs in the edition proves that the intersection between Blue Chip art and the metaverse is here to stay.

Artist Damien Hirst, dressed in a black leather jacket, holding one of his circular Spin Paintings above his head. The Spin Painting is composed of a varied palette of blues, pinks, reds, yellows, and whites, in a dizzying pattern.Image © Heni / Damien Hirst Holding One Of The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst 2023

What Are The Beautiful Paintings?

Despite their name, The Beautiful Paintings are not actually paintings - they are either Giclée prints printed on canvas or NFTs. During the creation stage, the collector can choose between two shapes (a square or circular format) and four sizes. The circular and square physical artworks were available in canvases measuring: 23, 40, 70, and 100 cm in diameter, costing $1,500, $3,000, $4,500 and $6,000 depending on the size, plus any applicable taxes. The NFT artworks were $2,000 plus any applicable taxes. Each artwork in the series is unique, and the physical artworks are hand-signed by Damien Hirst in paint pen on the front of the work.

Just like Hirst's painted Spin Paintings, there is an element of chance in the creation of these works. The generated images made by Heni's machine-learning algorithm, which powers the collection, allows collectors to generate and regenerate artworks in a range of selected colours and effects. Likewise, the final output also has an element of randomness - making the series one of Hirst's most collaborative to date.

Artist Damien Hirst, dressed in a black leather jacket, standing next to one of his Spin Paintings. The printed artwork is in square format, and is composed of black and white, wit the artist's signature in the bottom right corner.Image © Heni / Damien Hirst With One Of The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst 2023

Damien Hirst's Spin Paintings

Since 1992, Hirst has been creating Spin Paintings as a response to Abstract Expressionism. As we see in other series across his monumental oeuvre, the Spin Paintings reveal Hirst's desire to make art creation a mechanical and almost ‘clinical’ process. By attaching his canvases to a spin machine, Hirst threw paint onto the canvas as it spun. The resulting effect is dizzying and involves a great degree of chance: just like the AI-generated works from The Beautiful Paintings.

In the 30 years following his first Spin Painting, Hirst has produced a plethora or unique works and print editions focusing on the spin format. Though The Beautiful Paintings have replaced the physical process involved in the original spin works, they incorporate the same level of chance.

Graphic displaying The Beautiful Paintings dashboard by Heni Editions and Damien Hirst. The dashboard displays the different Spin Styles available to make, the colour selection and the canvas shape, with the generated image to the right.Image © Heni / The Beautiful Paintings Dashboard © Heni Editions & Damien Hirst 2023
“I really wanted to do something that's purely generative, and I just thought about the Spin Paintings. Without using paint, canvas or pencils and paper, I was excited to see if we could make something that generated good looking Spin Paintings that weren't in the real world. The results have blown my mind!”
Damien Hirst

AI & Machine Learning Generative Art

As we saw with The Currency, Hirst always has his finger firmly on the pulse of technological innovation - never shying away from the sometimes controversial bridge between technology and art. Over the past year, Hirst worked closely with the Heni data science team to create a generative algorithm that digitally constructs artworks in 25 unique styles. The algorithm is written in p5.js, a JavaScript library, and is stored on-chain. With this unique algorithm - which incorporates a variety of techniques including WEBGL shaders, Perlin noise and trigonometric functions - the generated artworks mirror the motion of paint achieved in Hirst's physical Spin Paintings.

By using The Beautiful Paintings dashboard, collectors could choose their own shape, size, colour palette and styles for their customisable artwork. The names of the colours available on the eye-dropper tool had names which were generated using machine learning. The machine learning was even used to create playfully long and descriptive titles, beginning with the word ‘Beautiful’ and ending with ‘Painting’.

Installation view of Damien Hirst's The Beautiful Paintings in a gallery room. The white gallery wall has a simple hang of the works, featuring four circular compositions and one square work, in varying colour palettes and sizes.Image © Heni / Installation View Of The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst 2023

How Much Did The Beautiful Paintings Sell For?

On 17 April 2023, Heni released the final edition numbers for Hirst's The Beautiful Paintings. They were as follows:

  1. H12-1 (X-Large Circle): 1,463
  2. H12-2 (Large Circle): 606
  3. H12-3 (Medium Circle): 657
  4. H12-4 (Small Circle): 1,148
  5. H12-5 (X-Large Square): 473
  6. H12-6 (Large Square): 224
  7. H12-7 (Medium Square): 230
  8. H12-8 (Small Square): 308
  9. Digital Artworks (NFTs): 399 (217 Circle, 182 Square)

From this edition alone, the revenue for the AI generated artworks reached a phenomenal $20,994,000 (before applicable taxes).

If anything, the results show that Hirst has clung firmly onto the shock factor he developed as a sensational Young British Artist (YBA). The series is also a true expression of the capabilities of AI in the art world, urging us to rethink what art is and can be in this age. This will not be the last foray into machine learning generated art, and with the development of this technology will come new, innovative and unexpected results which could redefine art history as we know it.

Damien Hirst - The Beautiful Paintings © Damien Hirst & Heni 2023

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