'I started them (the Pharmaceutical paintings) as an endless series like a sculptural idea of a painter (myself). A scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies' scientific approach to life. Art doesn't purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do... I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz.'
(D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246).
Executed in 1994, Arginine Decarboxylase is one of the largest of Damien Hirst's early and celebrated Spot Paintings. The early 1990s saw Hirst leading a new generation of artists who burst onto the scene with an entirely new artistic vocabulary rooted in the conceptual and minimal art of the 1960s but with a visionary use of a variety of media. The Spot Paintings were perhaps the most iconic images which populated most of Hirst's ground breaking exhibitions of this period from Freeze in 1989 when he was painting directly onto the walls, to his much celebrated installation at the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 which included the iconic works The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and A Thousand Years, to his exhibition of the Mother and Child Divided at the Venice Biennale in 1993, which announced his presence on the global scene, and his nomination for the Turner prize in 1994, the year the present work was executed.
Although Hirst made a few Spot Paintings directly onto the wall for his breakthrough exhibition, 'Freeze' in 1988 (see right), the first known Spot Paintings on canvas date from 1991 and Hirst has referred to them as the life blood of his career. As can be seen in Arginine Decarboxylase, the success of these paintings is due in part to their expression of certain aspects of Hirst's own views on art and science, and in part due to his sheer infectious love of colour. Writing about Pharmaceutical Paintings such as Arginine Decarboxylase, he himself explained that, 'I believe painting and all art should be ultimately uplifting for a viewer. I love colour. I feel it inside me. It gives me a buzz.' Nowhere in his work is this more clear than in the regimented pools of individual colours in the Spot Paintings, where no single colour is repeated on the same canvas, creating a vibrant yet disciplined visual effect that would later be brought into three dimensions in his vitrines filled with individual pills.
These works are also referred to as Pharmaceutical Paintings and their orderliness is key, acting as a bridge between the Medicine Cabinets which he made alongside these works and the pill cabinets which he began in the late 1990s where the perfect forms of pills are lined up to geometric and chromatic perfection. Even in the Medicine Cabinets, Hirst explained that the composition was based more on his ideas of colour than on any medical knowledge or rationale. Nonetheless, those neatly stacked products gave a sense of reason and purpose that was taken up in the pill-like progression of coloured circles in Arginine Decarboxylase. Hirst has here shown a reaction both against what he perceived as the over-blown and obsolete expressionism espoused by many painters and against the comfort and faith that people have placed in the medical industry. Accordingly, his Pharmaceutical Paintings embrace a 'scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies' scientific approach to life. Art doesn't purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do.' (D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246).
Right: Installation View of the Exhibition Freeze, London, 1988
Damien Hirst Holdings Limited and Damien Hirst. All Rights Reserved DACS 2011