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Hirst’s Bromphenol Blue and Xylene Cyanol Dye Solution; Pyronin Y and Ethidium Bromide Aqueous Solution prints play into his pharmaceutical theme. The series is representative of some of Hirst’s most iconic works to his name, the spot paintings. The spot paintings show rows of spots in a grid-like formula, each spot a different colour, and are an exploration of colour and form that is distinctly Hirstian. These works represent abstraction reduced to its most basic mechanisms: colour, form and composition.
Discussing the spot paintings more broadly, Hirst has explained, “I believe all painting and art should be uplifting for the viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz.” Deceptively simple and joyous, Bromphenol Blue and Xylene Cyanol Dye Solution; Pyronin Y and Ethidium Bromide Aqueous Solution recall the absurdity of Dadaism and gently mocks the processes of pointillist painting. The crisp edges and formulaic composition of each print convey a lack of human touch, despite the fact that these works are laborious and painting to produce. For many of the spot paintings throughout his career, Hirst employed assistants to produce them.
Each composition is a tight knit mesh of spots set against a plain white backdrop, the bright and round coloured spots bright and buzzing. The colour and arrangement appear to be seemingly random and with infinite possibilities in their display. The cold repetition and sterile aesthetic of these prints are reminiscent of Hirst’s early pill cabinet works such as The Void from 2000. Both The Void and this set of prints evoke a sense of endless sameness and directly allude to the realms of medicine and science. Indeed, the chemical name of each print in this series evokes a nondescript powder or pill that is abstract in its scientific mode. Fascinated by intuitive colour choice from his days at Goldsmiths, Hirst claims that the spot paintings have removed any problems he previously had with colour, allowing him to present a perfect arrangement of colour that is never repeated.
Not only do they look aesthetically pleasing when painstakingly lined up and positioned by Hirst, pharmaceuticals, drugs and their packaging play an important thematic role in the artist’s oeuvre. Ever interested in the inevitability of death, pharmaceuticals can be seen to represent our attempts to prolong life, to distract ourselves from illness and our own fate. Hirst himself has also grappled with drug addiction, particularly during his rise to fame, so perhaps there is a healing, reflective capacity to his use of drugs and pharmaceuticals in his work.
The first spot paintings by Hirst appeared in his 1988 Freeze exhibition that showcased the work of his friends at Goldsmiths College, alongside his own. The original spot paintings were hand-painted spots that were messy, expressionist and dripped down an 8ft-by-12ft panel. The two painted arrangements of coloured spots onto the wall of the warehouse, titling them Edge and Row respectively. This collection and the spot paintings more broadly represent Hirst’s expansive artist vision, notably in their enormity and endlessness. As the Freeze exhibition demonstrated, throughout his career Hirst has favoured large industrial space of display over standard British gallery spaces that risk constricting the artist’s capacious vision.
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