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In Damien Hirst’s 2011 New Beginnings series, each of six prints depicts a detailed butterfly against a block colour ground. The title references the butterfly's symbolism of regeneration; Hirst is ever fascinated by the parallels between different spiritualities, and the near-universal belief in life’s cyclicality is a prime example.

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Meaning & Analysis

A set of six prints, New Beginnings was made in 2011 and like many of Hirst’s butterfly works, offsets a butterfly against a block colour backdrop. Each rectangular composition shows a different species of butterfly with its wings outspread in the centre, set against a bright block coloured backdrop.

Hirst began working with butterflies early on in his career, beginning in 1989 and first displaying butterfly works in 1991 with his installation In And Out Of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays). The use of real butterflies for aesthetic purposes derives from a form of hobbyism that was popular in the 19th century, wherein Victorian fire-screens were made with dead butterflies. Hirst’s use of dead butterflies, notably their wings separated from their bodies, is now highly controversial. Notably, Hirst’s Mandalas have garnered attention in the way that the butterflies have most likely been bred specifically for the purpose of using their wings for the final work.

Rod Mengham in a catalogue accompanying the White Cube Mandalas exhibition in 2019 wrote that: “Hirst’s prolonged exploration of the life cycle of the butterfly its spectacular visual appeal, the mythological and cultural formations it has inspired, and the variety of forms of response it has provoked in both artists and scientists, is one of the most thoroughgoing and many-sided conceptual projects sustained by any contemporary artist.” New Beginnings is an example of the way in which Hirst’s butterfly works incite visceral and emotive responses in viewers.

The title of the series New Beginnings points to the highly symbolic nature of the butterfly that suggests the life cycle and ideas around life changing direction or beginning again. Hirst is hyper aware of the way in which the motif of the butterfly has been used by the Greeks to depict Psyche, the soul, and in Christian imagery represents resurrection. Indeed, the title of this series evokes common virtues found in a range of religions, reflecting Hirst’s fascination with spirituality and the human psyche.

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