The critic Jerry Saltz says that Damien Hirst "has done more to reignite the British art scene than any other individual of his generation, while in the process raising more English eyebrows since Francis Bacon. "(J. Saltz, "More Life: The Work of Damien Hirst," Art in America, June 1995, p.83) Hirst's iconography is immediately recognizable: cabinets of modern medicine; organized displays of surgical instruments and skeletons; bright monochromatic canvases covered with butterflies; spinning circular canvases splashed with vibrantly colorful paint, vitrines encasing animals in their entirety or dissected for all to see.
Simon, which is part of Hirst's Twelve Disciples series is among the artists most celebrated and most controversial. The series is comprised of twelve bulls heads encased in identical precision-engineered glass and steel cases, each one named for one of the twelve disciples. Each bull is indistinguishable from one another with the exception of Judas Iscariot, whose vitrine is painted black as opposed to the standard white of the other eleven. Simon, otherwise known as Saint Peter was a fisherman and according to the Gospels, the first to profess faith that Jesus was the son of God. He eventually died a martyr, sentenced to death by crucifixion. In keeping with this, a central, but not exclusive theme of Hirst's work is the exploration of mortality, a traditional subject that Hirst updates with great originality.
Hirst's work "abounds in the tension of opposites. He is distinctly urban in sensibility but known for images taken from the natural world." (Richard Stone, "Damien Hirst: a power to amaze", London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2001, p.86.) The juxtaposition of the glass and steel vitrine with the decomposing flesh and bone of the bull presents an intriguing contrast between fragility and solidity, the natural and the manufactured. Inside the cool formalism of a small sterile looking case is a bull's head stripped of its skin, muscles and cartilage revealed. Suspended and preserved in a formaldehyde solution it is surrounded by a greenish hue. Hirst, in this work and in others, isolates and displays objects the way museum cases do. The animals are presented the way we see them in museums of natural history and research laboratories, stuffed, preserved and presented for human examination. By using formaldehyde he is playing with our efforts to deny life's transience and our need to preserve and systematize, questioning the way we relate to the use of animals in the service OF science and progress.
While the physical confrontation with the decaying animal body in formaldehyde may be at first alarming in its unblinking confrontation with mortality, the works aesthetic and formal qualities also stimulate contemplation and reflection. Some feel it is impossible to fully experience or understand the work without seeing it firsthand. Floating in a peaceful and weightless condition, it is as if the animal has been removed from time and space and placed in an eternal sphere, reminding us that animals in other cultures are considered holy.