In Two Pills, Pink and Blue/Yellow, Damien Hirst presents an exquisitely-painted icon, dedicated to the religion of modern medical science. Two lozenges, rendered in vivid, artificially-manufactured colour – electric blue, lurid pink, sunshine yellow – gleam seductively from the centre of the composition, their plastic casing glistening under white, clinical light. Two more tablets, anonymously pristine and matte, are only partly contained on the canvas, suggesting a seriality which continues beyond the scope of the work. As if under the microscope, every detail is magnified: product names, logos and measurements; ridges, impressions and indentations. In the reflective shelves and mirrored back, the pills multiply into a pharamacopeia, creating a clinical portrait of faith and longing. ‘Pills are the most phenomenal objects,’ the artist explained. ‘It’s something to do with their minimal purity. Ultimately you just have no choice but to believe in them: these tiny, clean, brilliant Eucharistic forms set within nothingness, representing the infinite’ (D. Hirst, in conversation with G. Burn, 2006).
Hirst’s art has long been concerned with the consequences of living in a world entranced by the pharmaceutical industry’s promise of immortality. Beginning with the medicine cabinets, the first of which he produced while still a student at Goldsmiths, the artist has mapped the scope and form of this hypochondriac quest for eternity. Each of the artist’s iconic spot paintings takes its title from a chemical substance, while the pill cabinets, to which the present work is closely related, present the Wunderkammern of contemporary science. In the doubtless belief which humanity accords to the miracles of modern medicine, the artist saw a new system of organised religion: an alternative church which adopts pharmaceutical research as its sacrament. Appropriating its products in his art, Hirst hoped to evoke the same unshakeable faith in his works: ‘I was with my mum in the chemist’s; she was getting a prescription, and it was, like, complete trust on the one level in something she's equally in the dark about. In the medicine cabinets there's no actual medicine in the bottles. It's just completely packaging and formal sculpture and organized shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist’s and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. As far as I could see, it was the same thing’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 25). In Two Pills, Pink and Blue/Yellow, Hirst engages one of the central tenets of his practice: the distinction between the traditionally demarcated fields of science and art, challenging the roles which each plays in our society.