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The Elements

Damien Hirst’s H6 The Elements (2020) series sees thousands of butterfly wings composed into mandala-esque designs, as in his famous Kaleidoscope paintings. The four giclée prints feature colour palettes inspired by elements: earth, air, fire or water. The series reflects Hirst’s ongoing fascination with global and historical spiritual beliefs.

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Meaning & Analysis

Hirst’s H6 The Elements print series sees the artist use thousands of butterfly wings to create compositions that reflect each of the four elements. The diasec mounted giclée prints on aluminium composite panel are each inspired by one of the four elements,earth, air, fire and water, with the colours of the prints differing from warm red and orange in The Elements - Fire to cool lilacs and blues in The Elements- Air.

The Elements series refers to the early scientific notion that the universe was made up of four elements which needed to be balanced, in perfect harmony, to support the flow of spiritual energy. Belief in the elements was taught for thousands of years in Eastern and Western philosophies and were a cornerstone of science and medicine. The Elements series is not Hirst’s first exploration of the elements. The artist first depicted them in his 1992 artwork Pharmacy. In this work, Hirst created four glass bottles, filled with coloured liquids to represent each of the elements. The Elements series reflects Hirst’s longstanding interest in belief systems and myths which he often explores in his artworks. The series also ties into Hirst’s interest in questions of life and death, medicine and cures, as it was believed that the elements could be used to heal the sick before the discovery of modern medicine.

Each print in the series depicts an intricately designed kaleidoscope pattern composed of thousands of coloured butterfly wings. The delicate arrangement is representative of Hirst’s methodological approach to art and the scientific precision he brings to his artworks which often involve complex geometric patterns. The butterfly is one of Hirst’s most well-known motifs and the artist frequently incorporates the beautiful insects into his artworks, notably in the Kaleidoscope series and Mandala paintings. The use of butterflies in his art is deliberate due to the symbolic heritage attached to the insects. For the Greeks, butterflies are imbued with spiritual symbolism as they were used to depict the Psyche and soul. In Christian imagery, butterflies have been used to signify the resurrection. Hirst argues that insects like butterflies are extremely beautiful and retain an iridescent beauty, even in death. The use of butterflies in the Elements series reflects the wider themes of life and death that are often explored by Hirst in his artworks.

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