Damien Hirst's series The Souls consists of 80 foil block prints each featuring a butterfly placed centrally on an unadorned background. Each print is uniquely coloured, emphasising the beautiful biodiversity symbolised by butterflies, yet the title recalls, too, the darker association they hold with death in Hirst's work.
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One of Hirst’s most extensive explorations of the butterfly motif, The Souls is a collection of 80 foil block print variations, begun in 2010. Across the entire of The Souls series there are four species of butterfly depicted in each print, within which are 80 colour variations, each presented as an edition of 15. The abundance of butterflies across the series reflects the various insects found in a meadow, each one unique.
Reminiscent of the work of Pop artist Andy Warhol, The Souls is an immense set of prints, each with the same subject and composition. Each print in the series shows a butterfly in the centre, set against a white backdrop and created using a metallic foil block printing technique to produce a shimmering effect to imitate the way their wings reflect the light. Despite using real butterflies as the basis for these prints, Hirst’s choice of colour for each insect is entirely constructed and artificial.
The foil-block printing technique for this series requires a three step process. A colour print is as the base, upon which two shimmering layers are added to pick out the details of the wing patterns and thoraxes. Some prints use three colours whilst others use one or two, and in many instances, layers have been blind-blocked, to create variations in texture rather than colour.
Hirst uses saturated and bright hues to depict the butterflies in The Souls series, playing with this tension between life and death that the butterflies symbolise. Hirst has used the butterfly as a reflection of life throughout his artistic oeuvre and is fascinated by the appearance of life that the insect retains in death. The Souls series is representative of the way that Hirst puts themes of morality, life, love, faith and aesthetics into dialogue with one another to create spectacular and aphoristic images.