Damien Hirst may have set out to shock and dismay in his early days with works featuring dead animals preserved in formaldehyde and maggots feasting on cows’ heads, but today he seems to be taking exactly the opposite approach: seeking to please at any cost. Maybe the poor guy was just a frustrated painter of flowers all along?
In a video interview being screened at the Fondation Cartier, where his latest series of paintings, “Cherry Blossoms,” is on show (his first solo exhibition in a Paris institution), Hirst says, rather plaintively, “When I was young, I really wanted to be a painter, but I didn’t want to paint.”
At that time, of course, in the early ’90s, painting was the most uncool thing an artist could possibly do. Today, regular visitors to the leading contemporary art fairs, where 15 years ago painting had pretty much disappeared in favor of conceptual and video art, will have noticed that painting is once again the height of artistic fashion.
Suddenly, it’s okay for him to paint, too, supposedly with his own hand, although I do believe he mentioned helpers in the video.
This is not Hirst’s first stab at painting – earlier exhibitions, such as “No Love Lost” at London’s Wallace Collection in 2009, garnered some withering criticism – but it must be his prettiest. The large-format oils fill the upstairs and downstairs galleries of the Fondation Cartier, with monumental versions facing outward from the glass walls on the four sides of the building.
All slightly different, each work is almost immoderate in its use of big, thick blobs of paint of many colors: the predominant pink and white of the flowers and the baby-blue of the sky seen through the branches in some, along with daubs of yellow, green, blue and orange.
Hirst himself once said of his own spin paintings, “They’re bright and they’re zany – but there’s fuck all there at the end of the day.” Take out “zany” and the same statement could apply to the “Cherry Blossoms.”
One might protest that, like David Hockney’s paintings, they are colorful and joyous, but Hockney’s work has a personal stamp and a personality that are lacking. These are paintings with no there there, to quote Gertrude Stein.
Later on in the day when I had seen the show and put it out of my mind, I glimpsed a photo of one of the paintings out of the corner of my eye and absentmindedly thought, “That’s pretty wrapping paper.” Hirst is already the richest artist in the United Kingdom. Perhaps he can commercialize these paintings as wrapping paper and add to his fortune.
In 2003, this enfant terrible said, “I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment, if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘f off’. But after a while you can get away with things.”
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