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Death Do Us Part

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Critical Review

Published in 2010, Hirst’s Til Death do us Part hits us head on with a series of bright, saturated screen prints of a front-facing human skull. Every print in the series shows a silkscreen image of a human skull facing directly out towards the viewer. The image of the skull used in each print is taken from a photograph and flattened, depicted in saturated, block colours.

This series is undoubtedly inspired by the Pop artist Andy Warhol and his many brightly coloured screen prints that he is renowned for. Warhol was obsessed with the reproduction of images in mass culture, hence his repetition of the same subject several times across a single series and Hirst plays on this fascination with repetition and reproduction. The repetition of a single image across the entire series explores the concept of democratising high art and mimics mass-media imagery. Before Hirst, Warhol was also preoccupied with the iconography of death, depicting skulls in many variations in the latter stage of his career. Through his obsessive repetition of the skull throughout the Till Death Do Us Part series and his wider body of work, Hirst both desensitises and amplifies the permeating human condition of mortality.

Hirst takes a playful approach to the art historical genre of still life painting, the subject of the skull referencing the ‘vanitas’ still life genre. Vanitas paintings throughout history have functioned as a reminder of human mortality and the fragility of life, a theme that is present throughout much of Hirst’s works. Hirst’s use of vivid non-naturalistic colours points produces a jarring effect on the viewer, set in contrast to the morbid subject matter.

Rendering the fine detail of the skull and setting this against the dark backdrop, Hirst produces a highly simplistic image that finds universally engaging triggers. This contrast between bold colour, the flat backdrop and the realistic image plays with Hirst’s concern with facts and truth that images are assumed to depict.

Why is the Till Death Do Us Part series important?

The prints in the Till Death Do Us Part series depicts one of Hirst’s most famed motifs: the human skull. In 2007 Hirst created one of his most enigmatic works, For the Love of God, a diamond-encrusted skull cast from platinum plates and set with diamonds, weighing a huge 1,106.18 carats. Fascinated by death as a subject for artistic investigation, Hirst does not represent decay or fear of death with his diamond encrusted piece, but instead transforms this image of mortality into an aestheticized symbol. Hirst’s Till Death Do Us Part series has a similar effect, with his use of repetition and saturated colours that represent the constant psychic tussle between life and death, beauty and decay, desire and fear, love and loss.

It is only in the later stages of Hirst’s career that he has become interested in prints and editions. His first print portfolio was produced in 1999 and was a set of screen prints that depicted medicine bottle labels. Since his first print portfolio, Hirst has produced many prints and editions like those in the Till Death Do Us Part series and are a major part of his oeuvre.

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