‘The thing about Mickey is that even though he’s gone through so many shifts in form and association, he’s timeless. In a way he means the same in the 21st century as he did decades ago. I watched the cartoons as a kid, and my kids watch them too. He’s relevant because he’s remained so culturally ingrained and he still just looks so great. The way children are entertained today has obviously changed dramatically, but kids are still kids, and love the same things’ (D. Hirst, quoted in interview, December 2013)
‘It’s using simple means to capture the very essence of his form solely through the power of colour. I love that the imagery is so powerful that it only takes twelve different coloured dots to create something so instantly recognisable’ (D. Hirst, quoted in interview, December 2013).
In 2009, Damien Hirst was invited by Disney to create an artwork inspired by Mickey Mouse in his own unique artistic language. A playful reinterpretation of the artist’s own signature spot paintings, with its elemental composition and bold colours, Mickey stands as the culmination of the artist’s seminal series which he has pursued continually since 1986. Mickey will be auctioned in aid of Kids Company, with all proceeds going to benefit the charity. Kids Company is a charity which Hirst has long supported. Based in London and Bristol and established in 1996, it provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people. Inspired by the most famous cartoon character of all time, Mickey is an outstanding representation of Damien Hirst’s innovative artistic vision - engraining his own instantly recognisable painterly language into the canon of art history. Mickey represents a significant addition to this rich artistic tradition. The boldly graphic visual presentation of Mickey in Hirst’s iconic spots offers a geometric distillation of the quintessential profile of the famous mouse, representing the artist’s engagement in Pop Culture and traditional themes of academic art.
‘For me, he embodies the joy of being a kid. He transcends status, nationality and age and it’s amazing that he’s remained such a forceful cultural icon since the 1920s. He speaks of the power of a mass visual language and I love that. It’s the simplicity of the design and the colours and it’s what he stands for: children’s happiness’ (D. Hirst, quoted in interview, December 2013).
Since the 1920s, the persona of Mickey Mouse has accompanied over five generations through their childhood. One of the classic designs of the twentieth century, Mickey Mouse is an iconic cartoon ingrained in global visual culture. It is no surprise that he has provided inspiration to generations of great artists. Indeed arguably the first piece of Pop Art took Mickey as its subject: Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey, 1961, adapted a scene from the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck Lost and Found. Following in the legacy, the image of Mickey Mouse has been appropriated by renowned artists over the decades, most prominent of these being Andy Warhol’s Myths series, 1981, which placed Mickey Mouse on the same platform as such mythical legends as Superman and Uncle Sam, Claes Oldenberg’s large scale installation Mouse Museum, 1965–77, and Keith Haring’s signature Andy Mouse caricatures, 1985–88, a hybrid figure blending representation of Warhol, himself, and Mickey. Following this trajectory, in 2009 Disney approached Hirst to create an artwork based on Mickey Mouse, thereby continuing the historical legacy of artists who sought to recreate a version of the Disney star in their own unique artistic language.
Whereas Lichtenstein’s rendition of Mickey Mouse has retained an affinity to the contours originally outlined by Walt Disney, Hirst’s composition simplifies and reduces the character to his very essence: a deftly calculated placement of spots in primary colours. The circles of Mickey’s ears fit so cleanly within Hirst’s vernacular that it could be argued that his rendition of the mouse is the most seamless of all interpretations: Mickey Mouse seems to be made for him.
‘Every artist has to think about what’s gone before them and Mickey has a rich history of artistic interpretation. My work came naturally from the character of Mickey, though, because the shades and simplicity of the arrangement work perfectly as a spot painting’ (D. Hirst, quoted in interview, December 2013).
Walt Disney’s charming and inquisitive mouse has become an emblematic image of Hollywood and the motion picture industry, synonymous with the central values of American popular culture. The official mascot of Walt Disney Studios following Mickey’s first official appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, the intrepid mouse would go on to appear in over 120 cartoons and feature films and counting, as well as television series, comic strips and books in 15 languages, and boundless merchandise campaigns. Since the 1920s, as each young generation has befriended Mickey, his image has become profoundly engrained in the collective memory of humankind.
Deep-rooted in our subconscious, the iconic silhouette of the mouse formed from the most elemental construction of three circles conjures nostalgia across generations and has become synonymous with Mickey’s happy-go-lucky disposition and mischievous streak. According to original animators John Hench and Marc Davis, the success of Mickey’s design is owed largely to his identifiable ears, which remained flat circles regardless of his configuration.
The perfectly formed circles lend themselves fully to Hirst’s signature style: Mickey’s familiar jet-black ears, red trousers and yellow boots stand out immediately as connected to the mouse’s silhouetted origins, while simultaneously remaining distinctly linked to Hirst’s Spots. Conceptually informed by one of Hirst’s most important series that focused on the random and infinite arrangement of colour, the Spot paintings offer a mathematical, chromatic logic which the artist claims offer a solution to any problems he had previously encountered with colour (D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 120).
‘Mickey represents happiness and the joy of being a kid and I have reduced his shape down to the basic elements of a few simple spots. I hope people love it, because it is still instantly recognisable – Mickey is such a ubiquitous and powerful icon’ (D. Hirst, quoted in interview, December 2013).
About Kids Company
Kids Company was founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996. The charity provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children. Their services reach 36,000 and intensively support 18,000 children across London, including the most deprived and at risk whose parents are unable to care for them due to their own practical and emotional challenges. For many, the roles of adult and child are reversed and, despite profound love, both struggle to survive. These exceptionally vulnerable children not only negotiate significant challenges in their family homes, they also face immense threat within their neighbourhoods. Often they are exposed to relentless violence, some are forced into working as drug couriers or prostitutes, and many experience chronic abuse. They provide a safe, caring, family environment where support is tailored to the needs of each individual. Their services and support empower children who have experienced enormous challenges to lead positive and fulfilling lives. Despite great difficulties, the children they work with are hugely courageous and embrace the support Kids Company offers.
In 2007 Kids Company was awarded the Liberty and JUSTICE Human Rights Award. In 2010, the charity was selected as a ‘Child Poverty Champion’ by the End Child Poverty project for their success in enabling children to achieve their full potential.