Damien Hirst and Pop Art of the 1960’s Essay Sample

Damien Hirst and Pop Art of the 1960’s Pages
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Leo Castelli is to Andy Warhol as Charles Saatchi is to Damien Hirst.  Both collector/ dealers, Castelli and Saatchi, had and still have the power to manipulate entire art movements.  Both artists, Warhol and Hirst, have gained a celebrity status that informs and influences their art.  In the following pages I will show that the mass media invention of Hirst, and his art, is firmly rooted in the visual language of Pop art from the 1960’s.  From the first image of Pop art, Richard Hamilton’s collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing? (1956)(a), to the breakthrough Sensation exhibition of 1997, Hirst, like the Pop artists, is using a shock value to re-create the everyday into something extraordinary, valuable and compete with the flood of advertising that we are all surrounded by.

Pop art, which began in the mid-1950’s in Britain and in the late 1950’s in the United States, uses everyday objects or advertising and enlarges or isolates them to create a new way of interpreting those objects.  Pop art aimed to use images from popular culture, rather than traditional visual culture (i.e. landscapes or still-life), using banal or kitschy objects to convey irony.  Andy Warhol’s painted boxes Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box (1964)(b) or his Brillo Soap Box sculptures are an example of using and recreating everyday objects as sculpture.  Damien Hirst’s (born 1965) first breakthrough with his art came in 1988, while he was still a student at Goldsmiths College in London, in a student art exhibition entitled Freeze, in which he exhibited a group of boxes painted with household paint (now destroyed). Hirst commonly uses already made objects and re-contextualizes them to create new meanings, in the same way that the sculptures of Warhol and Claus Oldenburg did in Pop art.

Although Hirst made much of his own early works, he now employs dozens of people to help in the creation of his work, much like the factory style of Andy Warhol.  Hirst takes this “factory” idea to the fullest extent, stating in 2004,”I see the real creative act at the time of conception, not the execution.”(1)  By 1995 Hirst began to make a series of “Spot” paintings that consisted of multi-colored dots on a white canvas.  His choice of palette is reminiscent of 1960’s Pop art or psychedelic art, in which even some of the titles, “LSD”(c) or “Pharmacy”, have a sense of nostalgia for the time when he was born.  Hirst, along with two assistants, created over 300 of these dot paintings in 1999.  The flat orderly composition of these paintings can be compared to the silk screen paintings of Warhol as in A Shot of Marilyn from 1963(d).  The repetition of the one shot of Marilyn Monroe, repeated over the entire surface of the canvas creates a polka-dot effect of a celebrity image.

Claus Oldenburg (born 1929) is known as Pop arts greatest sculptor. Bruce Cole states that, “Oldenburg’s subjects are objects so commonplace- the clothespin, the three-way plug, the Swiss army knife, the spoon- that in everyday life no one notices them.  But Oldenburg makes the viewer experience and examine them as designed objects on an enlarged scale.” (2) In 1976 Oldenburg created a 10 ton steel sculpture of a clothespin which is still on view today in Philadelphia(e).  The sculpture celebrates the simplicity of the object on a massive scale.  Compare this to Hirst’s 1996 bronze sculpture entitled Hymn(f), which is a 20 foot replica of a toy.  Hirst considers this painted bronze an outdoor sculpture as well, and over time, the enamel paint, like a skin, will peal off its surface, leaving only the metal sculpture remaining. Hirst admits this was intentional, “I just wanted it to be grand. It can go outside. It’s vandal-proof. Underneath it is this big f**king grand iconic f**king artwork. I mean, I love painted bronze. The paint on it’s like skin… It’s an outdoor sculpture. It’s like a car. It’ll decay. So eventually what you’ll be left with is this solid bronze man with bits of paint hanging off it. So in a way it’s like what happens to your body. I liked it for that reason. That’s why I went in for bronze.” (3) Hirst, like the Pop artists, wants the unintentional viewer to see this object in a different context by drastically changing its’ scale and material.

Hirst’s mature work deals with death.  This theme is also not a stranger to Pop art.  In 1963 Warhol created a “Death and Disaster” series, the Green Car Crash silkscreen paintings(g) and his 1976 skull prints(h) clearly show the artist had a fascination with the commoditization of death.  In 1972 Warhol stated,” I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment.’” (4)  In 2007, Hirst exhibited  For the Love of God(i), which is a human skull recreated in platinum and covered with over 8000 diamonds weighing a total of over 1000 carats.  The piece was modeled from an 18th century skull; however the only remaining human part is the teeth.   In this case, Hirst has taken a common subject matter from art history, one we can all relate to, and inflated its value (not scale) so exorbitantly that we now have to view the skull in a different context.  In this case, he has made death into an object of desire, in the same way Warhol glorified the car crashes of the 1960’s.

In conclusion, it is clear the Damien Hirst’s contemporary works, as well as his persona, are an evolution from Pop art of the 1960’s.  The visual vocabulary of the “sex and drug” culture of the 1960’s is a springboard for the work Hirst is creating today.

Art Work References

  1. Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing? (1956)
  2. Andy Warhol, Campbell Soup Box, 1964
  3. Damien Hirst, LSD, dot painting, 1999
  1. Andy Warhol, A Shot of Marilyn, 1963
  2. Claus Oldenburg, Clothespin, 1976, Center square Philadelphia
  3. Damien Hirst, Hymn, 1996
  1. Andy Warhol, Green Car Crash, 1963  h. Andy Warhol,   Skull print, 1976
  2. Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

Works Cited

  1. Hattenstone, Simon. “Damien Hirst: ‘Anyone can be Rembrandt’ “, The Guardian, November 2009

2.Wood, Michael. Art of the Western World: from Ancient Greece to Post-Modernism.        (pages 313-314) 1989, Simon and Schuster, New York

  1. Hirst, Damien and Burn, Gordon. Extracted from On The Way To Work. Faber & Faber.  22 October 2001

4.Warhol, Andy. Quote from Art of the Western World: from Ancient Greece to Post-Modernism (page 314). 1989, Simon and Schuster, New York

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