‘The movement sort of implies life’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 221).
‘[The spin paintings] make the colours participate in a primordial state, where order and creation dissolve and disengage from the mediation of thought and representation, to become pure expression of the basic and vital gesture of painting and its mythology’ (M. Codognato, ‘Warning Labels’, in Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Museo Archeological Nazionale, Naples, 2004, p. 42).
With its hypnotic, radial explosion of colour, executed on an extraordinary scale, Damien Hirst’s seminal Beautiful mis-shapen purity clashing excitedly outwards painting is one of the first and largest examples of the artist’s majestic ‘spin’ paintings. Executed in 1995, the same year that Hirst was awarded the Turner Prize, it is one of the only spin paintings to rotate mechanically on the wall, causing its kaleidoscopic surface patterns to shatter across its vast circular form. Created by pouring household emulsion paint onto a rapidly rotating canvas, the spin paintings stand as one of the most iconic bodies of work within Hirst’s oeuvre. Celebrated for their entrancing optical pyrotechnics, they are defined by their elongated, evocative titles, beginning with ‘beautiful’ and followed by a stream of adjectives whose frenetic rhythm mirrors the rapid acceleration of the spun surface. Vibrant expressions of liberation, chance and spontaneity, these paintings mark a break from the formaldehyde visions of death and decay that characterised Hirst’s earlier work, as well as eschewing the ordered formal structures of his preceding ‘spot’ paintings. At the same time, however, they are premised on the equivalent desire to access the principles of chaos that underpin human existence. With their appearance controlled purely by the artist’s choice of colour and the movement of the spin machine, they embody Hirst’s ongoing enquiry into the external forces that determine the nature of reality. Included in his major solo shows The Agony and the Ecstasy (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, 2004), and Relics (ALRIWAQ, Qatar Museums Authority, Doha, 2013), the work’s kinetic element was conceived in response to Hirst being repeatedly asked which way up his spin paintings should be installed. Its mesmerizing rotation represents a literal expression of Hirst’s conviction that the motion of the canvas is the work’s raison d’être. As the artist has asserted, ‘The movement sort of implies life’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 221).
Like much of Hirst’s practice, the deceptive simplicity of the spin painting method is tied to his fundamental interrogation of art’s purpose. The artist has described how his spin paintings were inspired by childhood memories of watching Blue Peter presenter John Noakes demonstrate a version of the technique using a motorised cardboard spinning machine. ‘I grew up with Blue Peter’, he explained. ‘I got my idea for the spin paintings from an episode in the 1970s... I remember thinking “that’s fun, whereas art is something more serious”... And then as I got older, I started thinking about Van Gogh and all those painters, and cutting your ear off when you’re painting, and at that point I thought, “Why does it have to be like that?” I thought, “No, actually, the better art is the art made with the spin machine”’. Some time after watching the Blue Peter episode, Hirst attended a school fête where he had the opportunity to try his hand at spin painting for the first time. ‘I queued up all day and I was making them over and over again’, he recalls (D. Hirst, quoted in http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19399198 [accessed 9 May 2015]). Ironically, it was within a similar context that Hirst would launch his own spin painting practice: having produced a number of early examples in his Brixton studio in 1992, the following year he set up a spin art stall with fellow artist Angus Fairhurst at Joshua Compston’s street fair A Fête Worse than Death. For the event, the notorious performance artist Leigh Bowery transformed Hirst and Fairhurst into clowns, and visitors were invited to create their own spin paintings, signed by the artists upon their completion.
In 1994, whilst living in Berlin, Hirst had his own spin machine manufactured, and it was from this point that the series truly began to take shape. Created the following year, the present work embodies the euphoric ecstasy of these early explorations. As the spin paintings became increasingly popular, Hirst never lost his childlike sense of wonder in the process that had inspired him as a young boy. It remained, for him, ‘a miracle of technology’; ‘I really like making them’, he professed. ‘And I really like the machine, and I really like the movement. Every time they’re finished, I’m desperate to do another one’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 221). Ultimately, these works function as uninhibited celebrations of the power of painting: by removing his own hand directly from the process, Hirst reawakens a primal sense of awe in its unpredictable possibilities. As Mario Codognato has written, the spin paintings ‘make the colours participate in a primordial state, where order and creation dissolve and disengage from the mediation of thought and representation, to become pure expression of the basic and vital gesture of painting and its mythology’ (M. Codognato, ‘Warning Labels’, in Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Museo Archeological Nazionale, Naples, 2004, p. 42).