Exclusive: Watch Damien Hirst at Work on His New "Veil Paintings"
A new video of the series in progress sees the artist riff on Pointillism.
View of Damien Hirst, The Veil Paintings, Gagosian Beverly Hills, 2018. Artworks © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2018. Courtesy Gagosian. Photo by Jeff McLane
Clad in custom Nikes and draped in gold chains, Damien Hirst made a triumphant return to LA last week. Ed Ruscha was at the opening—so was Kanye—and the show was a sell-out. Hirst hasn’t exhibited solo in the city since 2012, but chose Gagosian Beverly Hills as the place to debut a new series, The Veil Paintings. They’re (unofficially) spot paintings again, but a little different from previous versions. While still big and bright, they eschew the familiar geometric look, and are inspired this time by Pierre Bonnard and the Pointillists. In another foray into large-scale “by-hand” painting, Hirst has filled the gallery's vaulted space with dizzying, all-enveloping color.
With characteristic modesty, the artist compares the effect of his new works to Monet’s Water Lilies, and has also referred to them as “little moments” for us to lose ourselves in. The veil of the title refers, according to a press statement, to the space between this realm and the next—“a curtain between two things”—and each epic title names a different one. Resurrecting the buzz he once got as a student from a survey show of Willem de Kooning and Pierre Bonnard at the Pompidou, Hirst combines art-historical reference with elements of his own previous work, picking up where his Visual Candy series leaves off.
As an artist often associated with a certain nihilism—albeit one frequently leavened with gallows humor and the definitive post-pop look—Hirst’s homage to French Post-Impressionism is certainly a shift. And in light of his recent effort in Venice, a sculptural installation spread throughout Palazzo Grassi that garnered mixed reviews, the turn to something relatively straightforward, if not exactly understated, proves refreshing. A room of quiet floral compositions is genuinely affecting. And in the Veil paintings, Hirst combines vivid color with the physicality of action painting and Pointillism’s repetitive markmaking to satisfying ends.
Hirst has fully immersed himself in his sources, borrowing from Bonnard’s distinctive palette to conjure articulated fields of mint green, petal pink, and electric blue. These paintings are lavish with pigment, puckered curls of impasto and bubble-gum drips speckling each vast, technicolor field. And if they’re meant to evoke otherworldly or meditational realms, they do an effective job.
The Veil paintings were produced by a time-consuming process. Each starts out as a pattern made with single color hand-applied to a canvas laid flat on a rotating box. As Hirst and crew graduate from large to finer-tipped brushes, the composition is gradually filled out. Eventually, the artist gets more actively physical, poking, flicking and throwing paint across the work’s surface. The Veil of Inner Peace, for example, is marked by red slashes, spits of yellow, and a tear of pale pink, blue, and white.
Does the Veil Paintings series really signal a more meditative and historically sensitive approach on Hirst’s part, or is it simply an allusion to the physical impossibility of such in the mind of someone living? These intense new compositions certainly reflect the multiplicity of the internet age, in which every movement and method is equally accessible. And while the methods behind them are not industrial per se, they do involve assistants and routines. Parody or homage? Production line or collaboration? It’s surely a strength of Hirst’s larger project that we’re still asking such questions.
Or maybe it really is as simple as, in Hirst’s words, “sunlight on flowers, fuck everything else.”
Damien Hirst: The Veil Paintings is on view at Gagosian Beverly Hills through April 14.