‘[The Spot Paintings are] a scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do. Hence the title of the series, the Pharmaceutical Paintings, and the individual titles of the paintings themselves... Art is like medicine, it can heal’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London 1997, p. 246).
Executed in 1992, Aldosterone 18, 21-Diacetate-3-(0-Carboxymethyl)oxime: BSA is an early spot painting from Damien Hirst’s seminal Pharmaceutical Paintings series. Created at a pivotal point in the artist’s career, the present work was completed the same year Hirst was first nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize, as well as the launch of the groundbreaking exhibition Young British Artists I at the Saatchi Gallery, London, where Hirst unveiled his now legendary The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, alongside A Thousand Years, 1990.
Among the first spot paintings created, the painting’s title reveals its early lineage. Referring to the medicines listed in the Sigma-Aldrich chemical company catalogue which the artist encountered in the early 1990s, the present work derives its name from the alphabetical listings of drug names in the catalogue. Starting with the letter ‘A’, the empirical naming imparts a cool, clinical order to the formal alignment of spots. Created at the same time as the artist’s famed Medicine Cabinet and Pill Cabinet series, its cellular quality and medicinal name draw correlations between art and science. This conflation of science and art is one of the central tenets of Damien Hirst’s oeuvre. As the artist has articulated, the Pharmaceutical Paintings represent ‘a scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do. Hence the title of the series, the Pharmaceutical Paintings, and the individual titles of the paintings themselves... Art is like medicine, it can heal.’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst, I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, London 1997, p. 246).
A gridded landscape of chromatic circles, the measured formal logic of the spots is balanced by the cheerful dissonance of the candy coloured dots. With no two shades replicated, the artist developed an early methodical system of mixing hundreds of household gloss paints, resulting in a reserve of many unique shades of blue, red, and so on. Focused on the random and infinite arrangement of colour, the artist articulates that ‘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’ (D. Hirst, quoted in ibid, p. 246). Uniformly positioned in a perfect grid across the expanse of white canvas, the spaces between spots is equal to the width of the spots. The systematic field of colours compels the viewer to deconstruct the perceived logic of the configuration, attempting to seek meaning in the orderly formation. Upon close inspection the subtle individual quality of each spot makes itself apparent, each unique colour articulating itself from within the field of tonality. As the artist stated, ‘I once said that the spot paintings could be what art looks like viewed through an imaginary microscope. I love the fact that in the paintings the angst is removed...If you look closely at any one of these paintings a strange thing happens: because of the lack of repeated colours, there is no harmony. We are used to picking out chords of the same colour and balancing them with different chords of other colours to create meaning. This can’t happen. So in every painting there is a subliminal sense of unease; yet the colours project so much joy it’s hard to feel it, but it’s there’ (D. Hirst, quoted in ibid., p. 246).