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Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God is a selection of photorealistic prints depicting the artist’s infamous 2007 sculpture of the same name. The skull in each print is covered entirely with diamonds and set with a large stone in the centre of the forehead.
This central stone was inspired by Hirst’s childhood memories of the comic 2000 AD. which he explains “used to have a character in it called Tharg the Mighty who had a circle on his forehead. He was like a kind of powerful God-like figure who controlled the universe…It kind of just looked like it needed something. A third eye; a connection to Jesus and his dad.”
Aside from For the Love of God Beyond Belief, each print in this collection is a stylistically typical representation of Hirst’s famous skull sculpture. So, For the Love of God Beyond Belief is rather unusual with its highly expressive and uninhibited style, showing us a pair of sketches of human skulls that emphasise the presence of the artist’s hand. Each of these prints show the skull sculpture set against a black, white or grey backdrop, producing a monochrome effect across the entire collection.
As the title of the collection indicates, Hirst is fascinated by religion, and his work addresses the endless renewal of faith, even in the face of mortality. The iconography of the skull and the diamond in this collection synthesises Hirst’s fascination with the intersection between religion, aesthetics and science that govern humanity.
Moreover, the title of this collection and the original 2007 sculpture stem from exclamations that Hirst’s mother would make when hearing of his new works as a young artist. Hirst explains: ‘She used to say, “For the love of God, what are you going to do next!”’
For The Love Of God (black) © Damien Hirst 2007
Hirst has claimed in interviews that For the Love of God cost him a colossal £8 million to finance, but the final figure actually reached the even greater sum of £15 million. Taking 18 months to produce, the bejewelled skull was finally exhibited at White Cube and made international headlines due to its unbelievable price. To this day, For the Love of God is regarded as the most expensive contemporary artwork ever made.
For The Love Of God, (side, white) © 2007
It is hardly surprising that For the Love of God reached such a mind-boggling price as it is composed of two of the most precious and pricey materials on the market: platinum and crystal-clear diamonds. The entire skull is set with diamonds, weighing a tremendous 1,106.18 carats in total. Just the huge pink diamond at the front of the skull’s cranium weighs a whopping 52.4 carats. If this monumental project proves anything, it's that diamonds really are Damien Hirst’s best friend.
For The Love Of God (four, black) © Damien Hirst
Despite claiming to have sold For the Love of God in 2007 for an incredible £50 million ($100 million), it has recently been confirmed that the piece never actually sold to rumoured private investors. Leading up to the sale of the piece, it was announced that Hirst himself would keep a large share in For the Love of God in order to continue its planned global tour. Perhaps this was part of the reason that the sale fell through, or maybe the price was simply too astronomical. Allegedly, the work still resides with White Cube, although neither they nor Hirst's production company would respond to questions about its current whereabouts.
For The Love Of God, The Diamond Skull © Damien Hirst 2007
Famously obsessed with taxidermy, Hirst turned his fixation onto human anatomy with For the Love of God. After purchasing a real human skull from Get Stuffed, a taxidermist in Islington, Hirst had the skull cast in platinum. However, instead of opting to replicate the original skull’s teeth in the same metal, Hirst had the actual teeth from the skull polished and inserted into the completed artwork to give an even more macabre effect.
For The Love Of God, Laugh © Damien Hirst 2007
While Hirst is indeed the brains behind his innovative ideas, he is renowned for delegating the actual production of his art to other people. For the Love of God is probably the most challenging commission that Hirst has ever imagined, and he entrusted Bentley & Skinner to craft the luxurious artwork-cum-jewel. The royally appointed jeweller has worked with the royal family for over a century, so it is only fitting that Hirst should turn to them for a bespoke artwork featuring crown-jewel-worthy diamonds.
For The Love Of God (four, white) © Damien Hirst 2011
The focal stone in the centre of the skull’s forehead was inspired by ‘Tharg the Mighty,’ a character in the British science fiction comic 2000 AD. The character had a similar circle on his forehead and, according to Hirst, “was like a kind of powerful God-like figure who controlled the universe.” Just as the fictional Tharg controlled the universe in this comic of Hirst’s childhood, Hirst made it his mission to change the world with his art, giving the piece an autobiographical element.
For The Love Of God, Believe © Damien Hirst 2007
According to Hirst, this decadent work gained its title from a much more humble source. Whenever Hirst had “crazy ideas” his mother would groan the phrase “For the love of God, what are you going to do next!” The title of the work itself therefore parodies the absurdity of its unbelievable price tag.
For The Love Of God, Wonder © Damien Hirst 2009
Given Hirst’s preoccupation with the theme of death, it is no surprise that the Mexican celebration Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has proven to be particularly inspiring to him. When collecting visual inspiration from this immensely expensive project, Hirst visited the British Museum’s holdings of Aztec skulls decorated with an intricate array of turquoise and coral tiles.
For The Love Of God, Beyond Belief © Damien Hirst 2007
Hirst once stated, “every artwork that has ever interested me has been about death.” While For the Love of God certainly encapsulates his preoccupation with mortality and death, it also follows the classic trope of the memento mori by making clear the inevitability of death. However, For the Love of God is not a pessimistic message of death. Hirst himself has described the work as having “a kind of quietness and a sort of transcendent feel to it,” as he uses the precious diamonds on the skull to make a mockery of mortality.
For The Love Of God, Wonder © Damien Hirst 2013
The year after For the Love of God was taken to auction, Hirst’s work was famously sold through Sotheby’s and fetched the art/business mogul a tremendous $201 million. The pricey diamond-encrusted skull itself is possibly the greatest manifestation of the commodity fetish in contemporary art. Defined by Marx as a state in which the production of a commodity is no longer important, but based solely on the exchange of money, Hirst definitely encourages his investors to champion material excess above all else. For him, the cost of producing this piece was almost insignificant. What mattered to Hirst, and what is always prevalent in his practice, is a hungry pursuit of profit and decadence.