The Veil Paintings
Gagosian Beverly Hills
March 1 – April 14, 2018
British contemporary artist Damien Hirst is already a household name, better known for his infamous formaldehyde-preserved animal sculptures. The larger portion of his work for the past several decades, besides undertakings such as the abstract Visual Candy series, mechanic Spot Paintings and the recent Color Space works, has embraced concepts many choose not to dwell on. That is why the work that fills his current exhibition comes as somewhat of a surprise, a question mark in a mountain of stark exclamations. The Veil Paintings call to mind some works from his past, but ultimately stand alone in terms of their whimsy and, well, their sheer joy.
The accessibility of these works sets them apart from much of his other work and is what actually inspired him to go back into the studio, having stated that he “was drawn towards the immediacy of painting.” In these works there are no glass walls, no toxic chemical solutions, no medical connotations, no dead animals. There is canvas, there is paint, and there are countless dots of color.
In an interview with the LA Times, he explained, “you work on complicated things, you simplify, you complicate, you simplify it.” That is not to say that they are entirely simplistic; when staring at one of these large-scale canvases, the eye is overwhelmed by not only all the color but also by the number of dots on the canvas and the shifting textures within the piece.
These large paintings, many measuring 144 × 108 inches, are large canvases shrouded in dots of endless, colorful paint. With titles like Veil of Faith, Veil of Love’s Pleasure and Veil of Logic, Hirst makes it clear that each work tackles a vast, complex, overarching presence within the human existence; presences which many choose to believe provide clarity, but which really continuously baffle and bewilder.
These paintings are a lot to consume, but once absorbed, the viewer is greeted with the realization that to pinpoint the first layer of paint marked upon the canvas would be nearly impossible. The paintings are commanding: Stand back and marvel in their prismatic power, come close and face the mess of chaotic impasto. In this way, they recall Manet’s Impressionism and Seurat’s pointillism.
Hirst has previously created barriers with walls, albeit translucent ones. He beckons with large canvases marinated in layers of color – but cloaks what lies beneath them. Hirst’s latest Los Angeles exhibition is, in essence, tied to the psychological, transcendent, confounding work of his past, exercising the same juxtaposition of acceptance and denial. Though these pieces invite and test, their colorful brilliance lends them a dimension of lightheartedness not afforded by the nature of several of his other creations. Sharing on Instagram Hirst wrote, “ultimately I want you to get lost in them, I want you to fall into them, and I want them to delight your eyes and make you want to stay in the painting.”
When viewing the works, one certainly is lost and one certainly wants to stay in the painting, searching for some indication of certainty, although one is, nonetheless, delighted by their charm. In the words of Hirst himself: “Color is just a powerful, uplifting thing. I think art should always be hopeful and make you feel good.”
Photos courtesy Gagosian Beverly Hills
Cover and bottom images by the author