Throughout his career, Damien Hirst has had a long history of collaborating with auction houses. Famously, his 2008 show Beautiful Inside My Head Forever bypassed the traditional gallery system entirely when the artist chose to present new artworks directly at auction. His most recent collaboration, Where The Land Meets The Sea, is a new show set to open at Phillips London on July 20th.
The show features previously undisplayed works from Hirst’s three new painting series: Coast Paintings, Sea Paintings and Seascapes, all of which were directly inspired by the artist’s connection to the sea. The artist also sought inspiration from Abstract Expressionism, namely Robert Motherwell’s Beside the Sea paintings series from the 1960s.
This is far from Hirst’s first foray into auction house collaborations. His 2008 show at Sotheby’s, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever was a groundbreaking moment in the contemporary art world. The exhibition, comprising 223 pieces of previously unseen work, was notable for two main reasons: the manner in which it was sold and the vast sums of money it generated. For the first time, a major contemporary artist decided to bypass the traditional gallery route and sell a significant body of work directly at auction. By selling directly at auction through Sotheby's, Hirst was effectively cutting out the middleman.
The auction took place on the 15th and 16th of September, 2008, and included a range of works that reflected many of Hirst's past themes. The works ranged from medicine cabinets to butterfly paintings, and of course included his signature formaldehyde sculptures – the most famous of which, The Golden Calf sold for over £10 million. In total, the sale raised £111 million, breaking the record for a one-artist auction. It was seen by many as the peak of the contemporary art market bubble, coming just as the global financial crisis was beginning. Despite many critics accusing Hirst of being more concerned with money than art, the artist defended the sale as a democratising move that made his work available to a wider audience.
The success of the Beautiful Inside My Head Forever auction marked a pivotal moment in Hirst's career, cementing his status as one of the most commercially successful artists of our time.
Where The Land Meets The Sea displays three distinct new painting series by Hirst. Each variously inspired by one aspect of the artist’s experiences of the beach, particularly during the British winter, the paintings also sought inspiration from previous artists in art history. In particular, Robert Motherwell’s Beside The Sea paintings have served as an inspiration. Created in the mid to late 1960s, this series is defined by its vivid, energetic and gestural use of white and blue paint, directly inspired by the ocean around Motherwell’s house in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The paintings are characterised by thick swaths of paint applied with a palette knife, creating a raw sense of the churning, energetic movement of the sea, while the broad, sweeping gestures lend a monumental feel to the paintings.
Hirst’s interpretations of the ocean are similar in their ability to capture in abstract form the essence of the ocean with its power, vitality and ever-changing nature.
Individually named after a British coastal location, these works were first created in 2019. Each of 168 paintings began as grey canvases on the floor of Hirst’s studio as he created his iconic Cherry Blossoms paintings, capturing the paint splatter as it fell. Although they began as a byproduct, Hirst soon saw their potential and worked on the Coast Paintings, shaping them to encapsulate the vibrancy, thrill and transformation experienced by a seaside during winter. In direct contrast to Cherry Blossoms, in this series large swathes of canvas remain untouched by the splatter.
Each of the canvases comes with a corresponding postcard attached, and are in varying sizes from a substantial 144 x 108 inches to 12 x 12 inches. They also vary in composition and colour palette, although each ultimately aims to encapsulate the sensation of seeing scattered light in the British seas during the winter season.
Captured in photorealistic detail, these grayscale paintings show the sheer power of the ocean in coastal storms around the world. Composed of 64 works created in 2022, this series marks the latest iteration in Hirst’s 25-year long practice of producing paintings after photographs, his so-called Fact Paintings.
These seemingly random, energetic impressions of storms are captured in a single click and then painstakingly worked into paintings over several months. The process is transformative, changing them from fleeting moments into perpetual renditions and embodying a dichotomy between the accidental and deliberate.
Lastly, the Hirst’s Seascapes are a blend of both of the aforementioned series, mixing photorealistic depictions of storms with paint splatters. The densely splattered paints evolve atop the base compositions, mimicking the water sprays bursting from the waves and evoking a sense of those captured moments. By incorporating a tangible layer of paint to the inherently dynamic images, Hirst intensifies the depiction of nature's power in the compositions, drawing the viewer one step nearer to the actual experience.
The show, seen for the first time, is set to open at the Phillips London galleries on July 20th and remain until August 18th, 2023. Visitors to 30 Berkeley Square will surely be in for an immersive experience, thanks to Hirst’s ever-evolving approach to painting and capacity for reinvention.
Our Editor's Take - Erin-Atlanta Argun 16/08/2023
HENI and Hirst's latest print ‘drop’ for this nature-inspired series concluded on the 14th August 2023. HENI are yet to announce the edition numbers for each of the 12 prints, which were determined entirely “by the demand during the drop period”. Much like The Beautiful Paintings, which concluded in April 2023 and saw Hirst yield a $20million gross profit, Hirst will create these prints according to the amount purchased by collectors. Unlike regular print editions, which are typically produced in a limited quantity before they are released to the public for sale - the edition size of Hirst's individual prints from these ‘drops’ with HENI are dictated solely by how many people are willing to purchase them, with the prints produced after the ‘drop’ has ended. This hyper-commercialised approach to art production is quintessentially Hirst: who has been met with equal measures of championship and controversy for his volume-driven practice.
Throughout his collaborations with HENI, Hirst's prints have been released as these ‘drops’ - a term we are more accustomed to seeing in relation to designer streetwear fashion labels like Supreme and Stüssy. The etymology of the word, used in lieu of ‘release’, has been attributed to Hip Hop music and the ‘dropping’ of highly anticipated records. Essentially, the term is used to signal the limited release of merchandise, whether it be a line of designer fashion pieces or music records. It is not merely a term of the times, but a marketing technique closely intertwined with 21st century consumer habits and ‘hype culture’.
Why is this significant for Hirst and HENI's collaborations? In short, these print ‘drops’ are the first of their kind in the art world for a major blue chip artist like Hirst. Signalling a new era in the history of art, likely fuelled by the hype culture surrounding NFTs and the internet era at large, Hirst's ‘drops’ with HENI should not be overlooked as a mere marketing gimmick. This is an entirely novel approach to the historic practice of printmaking, and is perhaps an indication of where the art world - and its market - is heading in the near future.
With artworks being produced solely on the basis of demand and financial return, Hirst and HENI have been met with a degree of contempt for this ‘drop culture’ approach to art. One commenter on a HENI Instagram post promoting the ‘drop’ complained: “I'm offended that Damien doesn't even seem to be bothering to put any effort into ripping us off anymore. Sad day for the artworld.” Another comment scathingly reads: “Please start producing some actual ‘art’ editions with Damien. This is lazy CTRL-P shiny tat.” On the other hand, one commenter boasted that they had bought three of Hirst's Where The Land Meets The Sea prints, and couldn't wait for them to be delivered. Like Hirst's oeuvre at large, his ‘drops’ with HENI have sparked debate. Indeed, if Hirst and his YBA Sensation allies have taught us anything, it's that any press truly is good press.
Whether you're a fan of this approach to art production or not, Hirst's collaborations with HENI must be lauded not only for their commercially savvy edge but - crucially - the way they make us think about the big business that is the art market. Hirst has always had his ear closely pressed to the culture of the times, striking it hot with the media and captivating the art world, and these ‘drops’ with HENI are not incidental, nor heedless. This latest release is part of a larger puzzle being pieced together, shaping the language of art history, the nature of the art market, and - ultimately - the cultural zeitgeist of our time.