Damien Hirst’s company Science UK LTD, has placed an advert for photo-realist painters. The ad, posted on the Jobs section of the Guardian, lists the following requirements for any applicant: “Experience of working with oil paint necessary, good colour matching skills, and attention to detail are essential for this position. Candidates must have a BA (Hons) degree in Painting or an Arts related degree. This position is full time, fixed term and the location will be in either London or Devon.”
The recruitment ad has triggered a flurry of speculation, is Hirst turning his creative eye towards the world of photorealism? Is this the end of the over-populated oeuvre of spot paintings? and can the nation’s butterflies finally come out of hiding? But let’s face it, following the Warhol-esque factory route is probably for the best, after the last occasion Hirst actually decided to turn his hand to painting.
‘No Love Lost’ was the first UK exhibition of Hirst’s series of oil on canvas works collectively entitled the ‘Blue Paintings’ at the Wallace collection in 2009, and garnered a collective sigh of depressed resignation from the British art press. The Wallace Collection, a museum renowned for its collection of Old Masters and 18th-century French furniture, presented 25 of Hirst’s works, displayed on the silk-hung walls of one of the first-floor galleries, juxtaposed with Poussin’s late 1630s ‘Dance to the Music of Time’. In the rooms beyond were Titian’s, Frans Hals’, and Rembrandt’s.
But Hirst’s presentation was a weak response to his one true love, Francis Bacon. It’s true that in this instance, the artist did it all himself – unaided by his armies of assistants – but the result was described by The Guardian as a memento mori for a reputation, and painting as ‘method acting’, overdrawn, with hoary titles.
It was all a strange mixture of bravery and hubris, to paint and publicly fail, responding to your true love, but being unable to out-paint their influence.
So perhaps Hirst is heading back in time, after spending two years working on a series of ‘Fact’ paintings from photographs he’d taken, begrudgingly at the request of his then wife Maia, at the birth of their third son. A number of the series were included in Hirst’s solo show at White Cube ‘Beyond Belief’ in 2007. Presenting a collection of pseudo-photo-realist paintings of the birth. Hirst explained at the time: “I want them to be like newspaper pictures, factual and non-expressive.” So it could be stated that at least these works were relatively successful.
I would state that perhaps Hirst should stick with sculpture and various vitrines – but after the rather cynically-timed, and depressing exhibition ‘Love’ at Paul Stolper, in which the works that were presented only served to highlight that once upon a time the chainsaw-wielding artist had believed in what he was doing, but, ironically, something had in fact died – perhaps not.
Looking back at Hirst’s first attempt at a kind of photo-realist approach in ‘Beyond Belief’ at White Cube in 2007 – having viewed that exhibition myself – I remember that something was missing from the works, that intangible quality; whatever that may be, was not present, something had fallen flat. Perhaps it’s all a signifier that the artist should steer clear of painting, after all it’s not for everyone, even if you get your technicians to do it for you – especially when you neglect to include the salary in your advert.
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved