Executed in 1992, Calcium Gluconate Injection is an early, monumental work from Damien Hirst’s Deuterated Compounds subseries of spot paintings from 1992. Identifiable by its grids of greyscale colour spots, the subseries consists of only 22 works, with the present work listed first in the Damien Hirst Complete Spot Paintings. Extending over two and half metres in length, this work stands as the second largest Deuterated Compounds painting. The grisaille dots across its immense expanse create a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic effect.
Created at a pivotal point in Hirst’s career, the unprecedented large scale of Calcium Gluconate Injection suggests the newfound authority of Hirst and the broader yBa movement. The year 1992 coincided with the artist’s first nomination for the Turner Prize, London and the first exhibition of Young British Artists at the Saatchi gallery, where Hirst exhibited his now legendary The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and A Thousand Years. The international acclaim that followed saw the artist’s exhibition of Mother and Child Divided at the Venice Biennale, in advance of the artist’s second nomination for the Turner prize the in 1994.
The cool, elemental execution of the pristine dots suggests a scientific logic. 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. Expanding across the vast surface of Calcium Gluconate Injection, meticulous rows of subtle slate, ash, and platinum paint create an undulating pattern over the achromatic sea; the gridded regularity imparting a cadenced pattern of light and shade. The vast field of systematic spots compels the viewer to deconstruct the perceived logic of the configuration, attempting to seek meaning in the orderly formation. Focused on the random and infinite arrangement of spots, the artist articulates that ‘they are about the urge or the need to be a painter above and beyond the object of a painting. I’ve often said that they are like sculptures of paintings... In the spot paintings the grid-like structure creates the beginning of a system. On each painting no two colours are the same. This ends the system; it’s a simple system. No matter how I feel as an artist or a painter, the paintings end up looking happy. I can still make emotional decisions about colour that I need to as an artist, but in the end they are lost. The end of painting…’ (D. Hirst quoted, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London 1997, p. 246).
Upon close inspection the subtle individual quality of each spot makes itself apparent, articulating itself from within the vast field of grayscale tonality. Enveloping the viewer, the grid paradoxically oscillates between both the meditative calm of a cresting wave and the dizzying restlessness of a mechanical turbine. 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 & G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 220). Indeed, the spectacular retinal experience of infinite variations of pale tonalities is truly transcendent.
Among the spot paintings created in the early 1990s, Calcium Gluconate Injection 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, its title was taken arbitrarily from the medicines listed in the Sigma-Aldrich chemical company catalogue which the artist encountered in the early 1990’s. ‘Deuterated Compounds are those chemical compounds in which some or all of the hydrogen–1 atoms have been replaced by deuterium atoms. Dueterium is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen and can act as a moderator to nuclear reactions’ (J. Beard & M. Wilner, Damien Hirst The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London 2013, p. 821). Its title Calcium Gluconate Injection refers to a medicine used in chronic conditions where high levels of calcium are needed by the body.