Sanctum Damien Hirst
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Damien Hirst’s Sanctum series is made up of six etchings, each in editions of 59 and was published in 2009. The prints are visually striking both as a full set and as individual artworks. Each print shows an intricate kaleidoscopic pattern created out of butterfly wings. The series combines the splendour of a rose window with the symmetry of a kaleidoscope, exuding a kinetic energy that is exciting and mesmerising.
The Sanctum series is reminiscent of Hirst’s first kaleidoscopic painting It’s a Wonderful World, created in 2001. This earlier work was inspired by a Victorian tea tray found by Hirst and much like the Sanctum series was made by placing thousands of different coloured butterfly wings in complex geometric patterns. In both It’s a Wonderful World and the prints that make up the Sanctum series, the butterfly wings are rendered unrecognisable when viewed at a distance and as part of a larger intricate pattern.
Evoking stained glass windows in Gothic architecture and the circular patterns of mandalas, the Sanctum series is representative of the influence that religious iconography has on Hirst’s work. The motif of the butterfly has been used by the Greeks to depict Psyche, the soul, and in Christian imagery represents resurrection. Indeed, the titles of the prints in this series include architectural features of Christian church buildings, reflecting Hirst’s fascination with spirituality and the human psyche. Together, the prints in Sanctum bring together themes of science, aesthetics and religion through the leitmotif of the butterfly. Each print in the series can be understood as an exploration into beauty, nature, religion, death and the fleetingness of life.
Why is the Sanctum series so important?
Hirst’s obsession with butterflies is depicted in the Sanctum series, with every print showing many butterfly wings to form its beautiful pattern. For Hirst, the butterfly is a ‘universal trigger’ that many people share in finding attractive and joyous. Recalling someone once saying to him: “Butterflies are beautiful, but it’s a shame they have disgusting hairy bodies in the middle,” Hirst in works like this chose only to display the dazzling wings in Sanctum. The use of the butterfly in this series differs from earlier iterations of the motif in installations such as In and Out of Love from 1991. Using only the butterfly wings, Hirst removes the idealised image of the butterfly from the real insect, arranging the wings into an aestheticized composition.
Throughout his career, Hirst has created many paintings, prints and editions using the wings of butterflies to form kaleidoscopic patterns. In 2007, Hirst brought the kaleidoscope paintings closer to their affiliation with Christian motifs and architecture in his Superstitions exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery. These paintings were created with arch shaped frames that echo pointed Gothic arches and produce a sense of entering a sacred space when entering the gallery. Some of these works, such as South Rose Window, Lincoln Cathedral, directly copied the stained glass windows of Cathedrals and some later kaleidoscope paintings made in 2008 were named after entries in The Book of Psalms.
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