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Veil of Hidden Meaning

Veil of Hidden Meaning
signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Damien Hirst "Veil of Hidden Meaning" Veil Paintings 2017' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
120 x 96 in. (304.8 x 243.8 cm.)
Painted in 2017.
Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Special notice
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Known as one of the most innovative artists of his generation, Damien Hirst has been a creative force since emerging as part of the Young British Artists group in the late 1980s. Well known for the breadth of his practice, his career has involved everything from pharmaceutical installations to formaldehyde preserved animals, his career has also been punctuated by occasional inquiries into color and painting. Extending throughout his oeuvre, Hirst has returned again and again to different iterations of the artform as he plumbs the conceptual depths of this most traditional of media.

“Hirst is essentially a romantic artist, amazed by the sweep of life, from its grandest themes to its grittiest detail ... His work is essentially life-affirming, even at its most chilling moments.” Richard Shone

Veil of Hidden Meaning is a particularly luscious example from the artist’s Veil Paintings series that he started in the late 2010s. Stemming from his earlier work with brightly colored compositions in various forms, this body of work is particularly beholden to the legacy of late nineteenth-century artists and the work of Op artists like Larry Poons and Yayoi Kusama. The artist often works in discrete series as a way of creating constraints for his creative output, noting “I like series because they define you. I have so many conflicting ideas, and a series is great way to jump in and out of something. Also, they are a battle with the idea of death. The infinite series I made at the beginning of my career was a way for me to not face that. It’s a great way to imagine that you will last forever—even though you won’t.” (D. Hirst, quoted in A. McDonald, “In the Studio: Damien Hirst’s Veil Paintings,” Gagosian Quarterly, July 4, 2020). Ever the sly philosopher, Hirst’s quips about time and eternity bring a metaphysical air to these chromatic celebrations.

‘‘A veil is a barrier, a curtain between two things, something that you can look at and pass through, it’s solid yet invisible and reveals and yet obscures the truth, the thing that we are searching for.’’ Damien Hirst

Realized on a massive scale, Hirst’s Veil series continues his fascination with painting in a celebratory mode that he started with the Visual Candy paintings in the 1990s. Unlike those earlier works, pieces like Veil of Hidden Meaning tower over the viewer as monuments to abstract painting. Though it contains a multitude of tones, Hirst applies each dot to the canvas as a pure color over, under, and on top of its neighbors without aggressive smearing or mixing. Referencing the Impressionists and Pointillist painters like Georges Seurat, he creates optically rich fields of dots that merge and swim in the viewer’s eye not unlike Kusama’s ‘infinity nets’, though with a markedly different motivating idea.

“I think if you look at a detail of a Bonnard, the colors, they start to excite you like a Rothko painting, something spiritual if you believe in that.” –Damien Hirst(D. Vankin, “Why Damien Hirst is seeing dots in his new work on view in Beverly Hills,” Los Angeles Times, 23 March 2019).

Veil of Hidden Meaning is given over to an abundance of blue in the upper portion that is gradually replaced by yellow and then red and green as one travels down the vast expanse of the canvas. Large shapes in myriad candy tints flutter about and pierce the even dispersal of white dots that Hirst has applied to create uniformity and visual unity in the work. Noting the bright and cheery paints he used in the series, Hirst remarked, “I have a selection of colors I love and use over and over again. They are like sweet shop colors and the colors of fruit and flowers; they are my go-to colors. I mixed them myself and I started with those. I used a longer-than-normal brush—not Matisse-style, but a bristle brush about two or two and a half feet long—just long enough to get a bit more distance from the painting surface and not be awkward. I wanted to make paintings that were a celebration and that revealed something and obscured something at the same time” (Ibid.). Acting almost like television static, one sees shapes emerge from this matrix of colored marks and then quickly recede back into the depths of the painting.

Hirst is tireless in the realization of his ideas and the pursuit of creative outlets. Though his work is varied in material and media, his overarching modus operandi has been to probe at the meanings of life and the systems we as people have designed to hold together the day-to-day realities of living on this planet. Art historian Richard Shone noted, “Hirst is essentially a romantic artist, amazed by the sweep of life, from its grandest themes to its grittiest detail ... His work is essentially life-affirming, even at its most chilling moments” (R. Shone, “Damien Hirst: A Power to Amaze”, in Damien Hirst: Pictures from the Saatchi Gallery, London 2002, p. 85). Dealing with worldly ideas like medicine, time, and capitalist consumerism, Hirst is aware of the seeming insignificance a single painting might have in the grand scheme of things. However, he is steadfast in creating an ongoing conversation one work at a time, and this is where his true genius lies.

At its core, Hirst’s oeuvre often grapples with philosophical and abstract issues, one of the most articulated being his relationship with the idea of death. “Death is one of those things,” he has explained. “To live in a society where you're trying not to look at it is stupid, because looking at death throws us back into life with more vigour and energy. The fact that flowers don't last forever makes them beautiful” (D. Hirst, quoted in E. Day, “Damien Hirst: 'Art is childish and childlike’’’, The Observer, September 26, 2010). Harnessing a healthy outlook on the infinite, he works to bring the everyday and the unknowable beyond closer together. In works like Veil of Hidden Meaning, the optical effect created by the white dots creates a screen that hinders a clear view of the colors, strokes, and marks beneath. In person, these painted points are thick and painterly, their physicality is palpable. However, seen from afar or in a reproduction, a ghostly shroud haunts Hirst’s colorful composition like a web of mist over a field of flowers.

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