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Katy Nelson~ Week 6

Damien Hirst, ‘In and Out of Love’, (1991)

Damien Hirst was born in Bristol in 1965 and was one of the Young British Artists to dominate the art scene in the 1990s. From June 21st to July 26th 1991, Hirst did his first solo exhibition in Woodstock Street Gallery, London. His work titled: ‘In and Out of Love’ was comprised of a room of live butterflies and an installation on the floor below titled: ‘Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays’. The live butterfly pupae were attached to white canvasses and hung in a humid room inside the gallery, where over the course of the exhibition the insects hatched, ate, flew around the room and then reproduced to continue the circle of life of the species all within the confines of the room. Downstairs, the artist placed filled ash trays to present the aftermath of a crowded public exhibition alongside large blocks with holes on each face. The artist had previously used these blocks for another project, where flies hatched inside the blocs and flew out through the holes. However, no flies or even butterflies hatched from them this time, leaving the room with a totally contrasting feel to that of the room upstairs. Damien Hirst’s works focus on the themes of life, death, permanence, fragility, symbolism and reality, and he has a particular obsession with death. His reoccurring use of butterflies within his artwork is linked with the idea that even in death, butterflies retain their sense of beauty and aliveness, and so Hirst views them as symbols of life and beauty. Hirst continued to work with butterflies, moving on to stick the bodies of dead butterflies to painted canvasses which were then added to the ‘In and Out of Love’ exhibition. On the subject of his continuous use of butterflies in his works, Hirst stated: “I think, rather than be personal, you have to find universal triggers: everyone’s frightened of glass, everyone’s frightened of sharks, everyone loves butterflies.” I do agree with this, as I feel to make really publicly successful art (especially now with the growth of social media and trends) you have to make something that the general public can recognize, appreciate and find visually appealing. With butterflies being such a deep-rooted culturally significant symbol, I think this is why his works gained the attention they did- I’m not convinced that audiences always need/want to understand art anymore, I think something visually attractive could be more widely appreciated. An example of this would be ‘Fireflies on the Water’, the infinity rooms created by Yayoi Kusama that went viral online.

Butterfly Skylight at Claridge’s Hotel, London

Damien Hirst, 2022, 6 x 8 feet, stained glass

Damien Hirst began to revisit his use of dead butterflies in 2011 and has more recently revisited the motif in 2022, where he created a huge stained glass skylight for Claridge’s Hotel in London. The window is illuminated by LED lights and appears mesmerizingly beautiful. It almost looks portal-like, as if it is the boundary between our reality and another- very relevant to the artist’s previous works and artistic interests. This concept is fascinating and something I would like to bring into my own project, as (especially with the winding staircase) the piece is immersive and creates a sense of warmth and hope.

Studying my taxidermy butterflies:

This week, I wanted to take the time to study, appreciate and just generally get to know my new taxidermy butterflies. I’d like to create some detailed works of them to capture their beauty, but also because taxidermy is quite a controversial topic particularly when it comes to the use of specimens in public spaces or artworks, as the morality of the practice is highly debated. Even though I sourced my butterflies from a reputable taxidermy artistry company and definitely did not kill the insects myself for the sole purpose of my art, I still want to appreciate them and become familiar with them as I will be using them all repeatedly over the next few months. Following on from my artist research last week, where I looked at the oil paintings of butterfly corpses by Kevin Scott Miller, I decided to create some studies of the butterflies as they are currently being stored, on white paper in small air-tight containers, to display the natural and peaceful beauty they have in death.

‘Still butterflies’

Watercolour & coloured pencil on paper, 405 x 305mm

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