Damien Hirst unveiled his new series of paintings in Brazil, following his World Wide Exhibitions at the Wallace Collection, where he showed a group of paintings of skulls inspired by Francis Bacon and his 2012 exhibition “Parrot Pictures” at the White Cube Bermondsey. For his latest painting exhibition, Hirst has created what he describes as “living city portraits”, the “Black Scalpel Cityscapes” are composed of a large number of surgical instruments that combine to create bird’s-eye views bird’s eye view of urbanized areas around the world. . With the series, Hirst investigates topics related to the sometimes disturbing realities of modern life—surveillance, urbanization, globalization, and the virtual nature of conflict—as well as elements related to the universal human condition, such as our inability stop physical decomposition.
In the paintings, man-made features and natural elements such as buildings, rivers and roads are depicted in scalpels as well as razor blades, hooks, iron filings and safety pins, all on black background. For this exhibition, Hirst has selected 17 cities, which are either sites of recent conflicts, cities linked to the artist’s own life, or centers of economic, political or religious importance. The selection includes, among others, Washington, DC; Rome and the Vatican City; Leeds (where the artist grew up); Beijing; Moscow; New York; and London. The particular history of each city is inscribed in its geographical distribution, showing how it has gradually developed and developed over the years. The paintings demonstrate Hirst’s trademark technique of patterns, systematic repetitions and grids, as used in previous series including the ‘Spot Paintings’, ‘Color Charts’, ‘Entomology Cabinets’ and the “Kaleidoscope Paintings”. This methodology is essentially an exercise in applying order to chaos, while recognizing that order or control are often incredibly distant concepts in life.
“Black Scalpel Cityscapes” refers to the military procedure of “surgical bombardment” or “surgical strikes”, commonly used in modern warfare, which aims to limit collateral damage by targeting specific areas to be destroyed. The suggestion of a distant digital conflict inevitably undercuts the tragic and devastating realities of war. Equally deceptively, the perspective of an aerial map reduces underlying life to a series of detached systems and patterns of collective existence; reminiscent of footage used in the Powers of Ten (1968, 1977) films by Charles and Ray Eames, as well as the compressed, slow-motion and fast-track sequences of American cities in Godfrey Reggio’s cult film Koyaanisqatsi (1982) – Touchstones in the modern conception of urban life. Hirst’s paintings therefore make inevitable allusions to the all-seeing eye, that of monitoring tools such as Google Earth, now used by around half a billion people and whose roots can be traced back to a 3D mapping application used by the US military during the war in Iraq. . The big question remains, does Damien paint them himself???
Hirst described the steel scalpels, which have been a feature of his work since the early 1990s, as “dark but at the same time light”, a reference to the visual appeal of highly reflective, precision-machined metal, and the awe universality of the surgeon’s scalpel. Playing on elements of puns surrounding “surgical strikes,” Hirst uses them here to dissect not only individual concerns about mortality, but also deep-rooted society-wide anxieties about surveillance, the digitization of war and the sense of a distant Orwellian order and its imposition on our individuality. Damien Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol, UK. He lives and works in London and Gloucestershire. Solo exhibitions include ‘Relics’, Al Riwaq: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (2013); ‘Artists Rooms’, New Art Gallery, Walsall (2012); “Cornucopia”, Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (2010); ‘No Love Lost’, The Wallace Collection, London (2009); “Requiem”, Pinchuk Art Center, Kyiv (2009); “For the Love of God”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2008); Astrup Fearnley Museet für Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2005); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2005); and ‘Agony and Ecstasy’, Archaeological Museum, Naples (2004). An exhibition of the artist’s private collection, ‘Murderme’, took place at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2006 and at the Pinacoteca Agnelli in Turin in 2012. In 2012, the Tate Modern in London organized a major retrospective of Hirst’s work to coincide with the London Cultural Olympiad 2012. He received the DAAD Fellowship in Berlin in 1994 and won the Turner Prize in 1995.
Damien Hirst, Leeds, 2014 Image courtesy of White Cube