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Critical Review

A firmly established motif in Hirst’s work, the butterfly dominates his love series, here appearing to flutter against bold heart-shaped backdrops. Each print shows an array of butterflies inside a visually simplified and bold heart shape. Every butterfly in each square composition is unique and is rendered in bright, contrasting colours to stand out against their plain white backdrops.

Reminiscent of his series of paintings entitled The Four Elements (Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, Green and Blue) from 2005, the screen prints in the Love series show the butterflies as though trapped on fly-paper. Works such as this were intended to ‘look like an accident of paint with butterflies stuck on it,’ according to the artist. The butterfly is among Hirst’s most famous motifs, emblematic of the fleetingness of life and the romance of death. Hirst’s long-standing obsession with the butterfly motif was conceived in the late 1980s, when he saw flies become stuck on primed canvases whilst he was working on the fly and cow’s head sculpture A Thousand Years from 1990.

The Love series takes the optimistic sentiments of the Beatles for the prints’ titles like All You Need Is Love Love Love and fuses this with Hirst’s subtle reflections on mortality. The butterflies appear to be suspended in celebration, their wings retaining their vibrance even in death. Hirst uses the butterfly motif throughout his artistic oeuvre as a ‘universal trigger.’ This motif helps the artist to explore the uncertainties at the core of human experience: love, life, death, loyalty and betrayal through unconventional media.

Why is the Love collection important?

Hirst’s Love collection is important due to its combination of the butterfly and heart motifs in his iconic style. Hirst sees the butterfly motif as an idealised image that is separate from the hairy-bodied insect itself: “Pretty butterflies and pretty flowers and love. The image is so drenched in all that kind of stuff that the real thing doesn’t exist. When you see the real thing, it’s hardly Playschool, which I quite liked. Because I’d called In and Out of Love and my ideas of love are really similar. I do have the birthday-card kind of idea, and then there’s the harsh reality of life.” Hirst’s use of the butterfly in this series differs significantly from his first reference to the insect in his In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays) installation from 1991, notably in its depiction of butterflies without the use of real insects and its overwhelmingly joyous sentiment.

Speaking to the artist’s preoccupation with the concept that art mirrors life, his use of the butterfly motif has remained prominent throughout his career. Not only is each butterfly born with a unique pattern that mimics the individuality that underscores much of human life, but the butterfly for Hirst symbolises growth, change, life and death. The butterfly motif appears both in printed editions as well as in installations where visitors are situated in a room of live butterflies.

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