'I was with my mum in the chemist's; she was getting a prescription, and it was, like, complete trust on the one level in something she's equally in the dark about. In the Medicine Cabinets there's no actual medicine in the bottles. It's just completely packaging and formal sculpture and organised shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist's and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. As far as I could see, it was the same thing'
(D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 25).
'I've always seen medicine cabinets as bodies, but also like a cityscape or civilization with some sort of hierarchy within it. It's also like a contemporary museum of the Middle Ages. In 100 years time this will look like an old apothecary. A museum of something that's around today'
(D. Hirst quoted in D. Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, reduced edition, London 2005, p. 229).
'I can't understand why some people believe completely in medicine and not in art, without questioning either'
(D. Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1991, unpaged).
Belonging to the seminal early series of Medicine Cabinets, My Way, from 1990-1991, is amongst the first works which announced Damien Hirst as an artist to the world and similarly gave birth to the Young British Art movement. Taking the 20th century Modernist history of painting and the claims of artists from de Stijl to Abstract Expressionism that art could somehow help the viewer to find a higher state of being, Hirst here orders a medicine cabinet in terms of colour and form to create peaceful and contemplative compositions which can enhance the mind and body, both literally and conceptually. As with all of his greatest work here Hirst is adopting the language of Minimalism to re-frame found objects and make highly philosophical statements about our existence. A defiant punk rock articulation of his new found autonomy as an artist, My Way takes its name from the Sex Pistols' punk version of the song popularized by Frank Sinatra, and was created following the first twelve cabinets named after Sex Pistols songs from the Never Mind the Bollocks album, including Pretty Vacant, 1989, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and E.M.I, Museum Brandhorst, Munich, Germany. A key vintage work by the artist, My Way was included in the now renowned Young British Artists Group Exhibition in 1992 at the Saatchi Collection, London, in which The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, was unveiled for the first time, and featured a survey of some of Hirst's most important works to date, including A Thousand Years, 1990, Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding (Right), 1991, Stimulants (and the Way They Affect the Mind and Body), 1991, and The Lovers (The Committed Lovers) (The Spontaneous Lovers) (The Detached Lovers) (The Compromising Lovers), 1991.
Hirst has often stated his belief that art has its own curative powers, and in My Way, he openly proclaims his conviction in the power of art through the use of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals in the work. A Minimalist display of a myriad of vintage medication, the immensely alluring rows of amber tinted apothecary bottles and gleaming glass jar in Damien Hirst's My Way are organized according to aesthetic principles, their contents glistening saturated purples, blues, and orange. The dazzling colours are ordered in a carefully gradient within the shelves of the cabinets, the ordered repetition of the chromatically arranged bottles induces an almost spiritual sense of calm and contemplation in those who stand before it. Here Hirst takes a new approach to the placement of colour and form, using the readymade objects of the pharmacy - which in themselves alter body and mind. This internal relationship provides a parallel to the composition of Hirst's earliest medical cabinets, where the objects within the cabinets were arranged as if it were a body by proxy, with each item positioned according to the organs it medically related to it. In this case, however, it is not the medicine in the pills, but the actual artwork that cures humanity. As the artist recalled, 'I was with my mum in the chemist's; she was getting a prescription, and it was, like, complete trust on the one level in something she's equally in the dark about. In the Medicine Cabinets there's no actual medicine in the bottles. It's just completely packaging and formal sculpture and organised shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist's and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. As far as I could see, it was the same thing' (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 25). In this way, My Way touches upon many of Hirst's key concerns: medicine, death, life, reality, art and its curative powers, while also having its own striking formal aesthetic presence through the sleekness and symmetrical precision of the minimalist cabinet.
Having completed art school in 1989, the early 1990s were a formative time in the artist's career, with 1991 encompassing the debut of his seminal installation In and Out of Love as well as his breakout exhibition Internal Affairs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and participation in the Broken English exhibition at Serpentine Gallery, London. Unifying several of Hirst's conceptually complex themes, the early Medicine Cabinets stand as a precursor to the artist's entire oeuvre, directly informing his seminal installation The Pharmacy, 1992, now in the collection of Tate London, as well as his pill cabinets, and notorious formaldehyde filled vitrines. The first Medicine Cabinets were firmly grounded in the biographical. Built by hand in his kitchen whilst in his second year at Goldsmiths, Sinner, 1988, was directly inspired by his late grandmother. Lining the shelves of his handmade cabinet with her prescription medicines, he succeeded in creating a deeply poignant, personal portrait of his family matriarch. One of only six cabinets comprised of pharmaceutical packaging dating from 1960-1975, the medicines in My Way perform as a time portal, situating the work decidedly at the height of the Sex Pistols fame, while also perform as a somber indication that healing elixirs can come to be lethal over time.
Recalling the Minimalist aesthetic of Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, the clean, unbroken lines of shelf and glass create a controlled environment, providing a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic world. 'A cabinet of [old drug bottles] work[s] like the spot paintings, as an arrangement of colour, shape, and form. [The cabinets] come to be seen in the popular mind as a symbol of advanced art; overcoming an initial distrust of its ease of assembly, people have become fascinated by how ordinary things of the world could be places so as to be seen as beautiful. The work democratized its meaning, operating as simply as a pop song' (M. Maloney, 'Everyone a Winner! Selected British Art from the Saatchi Collection 1987 - 1997', Sensation, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Art, London, 1997, p. 33). The 'minimalist delicious colours' of the designs swiftly became the most important criterion for their arrangement within each cabinet, prioritized over any medical rationale (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 211). Contrasting the minimalist exterior, the beguiling and reverential presentation of the vintage pharmaceuticals extends upon Jeff Koons' celebrated series 'The New'. A contemporary and admirer of Koons, in place of Koons' household appliances, the expired ointments and pills from the 1970s extend beyond Koons' discourse on the banality and redundancy of the most necessary or covetable commodities with time. As Hirst's medicines age, and expire, they too become distanced from their core function of healing. In this respect, Hirst has highlighted the mass-produced quality of pharmaceuticals, situating these medicines as functionless ready-mades. Pulling both references art historical and societal references, Hirst acts as chronicler of contemporary issues in a timeless manner. As the artist said of his medicine cabinets, 'I've always seen medicine cabinets as bodies, but also like a cityscape or civilization with some sort of hierarchy within it. It's also like a contemporary museum of the Middle Ages. In 100 years' time this will look like an old apothecary. A museum of something that's around today' (D. Hirst quoted in D. Hirst I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, Reduced edition, 2005, p. 229).
Enshrined within perfect minimalist shelving of a glass fronted cabinet, My Way assumes all the power of a religious shrine. With gleaming flasks and apothecary tinctures adorning its shelves, the cabinet becomes the altarpiece for modern medicine. The iconic formation of Hirst's cabinets draw allusions to medicine as an alternative organised system of belief; with medical science becoming the new church, and the pill embodying a new kind of sacrament. A profound commentary on society's blind belief in medical science, pharmaceutical labels inscribed with ominous advisories bare warning to their poisonous contents of these cures that we so faithfully believe to be innocuous. In My Way, Hirst illuminates the blind faith with which society endows upon modern medicine, in contrast to society's often sceptical reception toward the power of art.