'I once said that the spot paintings could be what art looks like viewed through an imaginary microscope... If you look closely at any one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colours, there is no harmony... So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours project so much joy its hard to feel it, but its there (D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London, 1997, p. 246).
'Mathematically, with the spot paintings, I probably discovered the most fundamentally important thing in any kind of art. Which is the harmony of where colour can exist on its own, interacting with other colours in a perfect format' (D. Hirst quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 119).
The largest spot painting at the time of its creation, Alphaprodine is an early, monumental painting from Damien Hirst's seminal series of Pharmaceutical Paintings. Executed in 1993, this work was created at a pivotal point in Hirst's career, coinciding with the artist's exhibition of Mother and Child Divided at the Venice Biennale, in advance of the artist's nomination for the Turner prize the following year. The unprecedented large scale of Alphaprodine suggests the new found authority of Hirst and the YBA movement, following the international acclaim that came with the first exhibition of Young British Artists at the Saatchi gallery in 1992, where Hirst exhibited his now legendary The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and A Thousand Years.
Among the largest paintings to appear at auction in recent years, Alphaprodine extends nearly five meters in width; its immense scale creating a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic effect. Recalling Richter's gridded colour fields, Hirst's vibrant spots are articulated with a similar chromatic logic, however Hirst's dizzying array of colour, purposefully devoid of black, generate a dazzling invigorating effect. The artist claims that it was through his spot paintings that any problems he had previously encountered with colour, were removed by the perfect arrangement of complimentary, yet never repeated, colours employed in his spots (D. Hirst & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 120). As the artist has asserted when discussing the installation of his spot paintings, 'it's an assault on your senses. They grab hold of you and give you a good shaking. As adults, we're not used to it. It's an amazing fact that all objects leap beyond their own dimension' (D. Hirst quoted in Ibid. p. 220).
With no two colours ever replicated, the artist invented an early methodical system of mixing hundreds of house-hold gloss paints, resulting in a reserve of one hundred unique shades of blue, one hundred unique shades of red, and so on. Focused on the random and infinite arrangement of colour, the artist articulates that 'the grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system; its a simple system' (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, 1997, p. 246). Uniformly positioned in a perfect grid across the massive expanse of white canvas, the spaces between spots is equal to the width of the spots.
The vast field of systematic colours compels the viewer to deconstruct the perceived logic of the configuration, attempting to seek meaning in the orderly formation. Upon close inspection the subtle individual quality of each spot makes itself apparent, each unique colour articulating itself from within the vast field of tonality. As the artist stated, 'I once said that the spot paintings could be what art looks like viewed through an imaginary microscope. I love the fact that in the paintings the angst is removed...If you look closely at any one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colours, there is no harmony. We are used to picking out chords of the same colour and balancing them with different chords of other colours to create meaning. This can't happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours project so much joy it's hard to feel it, but it's there' (D. Hirst, quoted in ibid., p. 246).
Among the spot paintings created in the early 1990s, Alphaprodine was made in parallel with Hirst's Medicine Cabinets and the Pill Cabinets, its medicinal name and cellular quality drawing correlations between art and science. Belonging to this earliest group of works on canvas, the painting's title reveals its early linage through its title. Referring to the medicines listed in the Sigma-Aldrich chemical company catalogue which the artist encountered in the early 1990's, Alphaprodine derives its name from the alphabetical listings of drug names in the catalogue. As the artist has articulated, his Pharmaceutical spot paintings represent '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, quoted in ibid., p. 246).