One of the most prominent artists on the contemporary scene, Damien Hirst has been shocking the art establishment since 1991 when he was awarded a Turner Prize nomination for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a glass box holding a preserved tiger shark. Over the past two decades he has created some of the most iconic and challenging works of our time. With his use of provocative, non-art materials across a multitude of media, Hirst explores the binary relations that structure our everyday lives: life and death, good and evil, love and hate, disgust and desire.
One of Hirst's most recognizable motifs is the butterfly, which he introduced in 1991, the same year as his Turner nomination as well as his first solo exhibition. In and Out of Love occupied two floors in an empty store in London's West End. On the second floor, Hirst installed a number of white monochrome paintings with butterfly pupae lodged in the paint; the insects' life-span lasted the run of the exhibition, as the installation allowed for the chrysalises to hatch, to feed from nectar, and to eventually die. On the ground floor, Hirst hung his first butterfly paintings: seven-foot square monochromes covered in bright household paints and inlaid with brilliant butterfly wings. The paintings encircled four white boxes with circular holes and four glass ashtrays filled with cigarette butts; the entire ground floor installation is now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. In and Out of Love encapsulated a complete life cycle in a single, albeit two-part, exhibition.
Over ten years later, Hirst again used butterflies as media in his 2003 White Cube exhibition, Romance in the Age of Uncertainty. The butterfly wings, dissected from their bodies, were arranged in geometric patterns across the entirety of the canvas thereby invoking kaleidoscopes or fractal geometry. He again expanded upon the butterfly theme in his 2007 Gagosian exhibition Superstition where his butterfly collages referenced the sumptuous stained glass of church windows.
Hirst's latest Butterfly Paintings, such as Love In, are heart-shaped monochrome canvases; as before, they are just slightly larger than human-scale. In addition to butterfly wings, the present lot is also covered with diamond-shaped cubic zirconia stones. Symbolic of the brevity of life and of metamorphoses, Hirst uses the butterfly to symbolize the ascension of the soul; yet he distorts this allusion with the cubic zirconia, a commercial object engineered to appear as a precious stone. The delicate butterflies combined with the mass-produced stones replicate Hirst's abiding interests in opposites:
"Then you get the beauty of the butterfly, but its actually something horrible. It is like a butterfly has flown around and died horribly in the paint. The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing." (D. Hirst, in E. Cicelyn ed., Damien Hirst (Napoli: Museo archeologico nazionale and Electa Napoli, 2004), p. 83.)