Written by Susanne Roald
The painting “Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting” is part of Damien Hirst’s Spin Paintings series. The works in this series are characterised by their iconic painting style, created when Hirst pours paint onto rotating, circular canvases. The abstract motif emerges as a random result of both the artist’s choice of colours and the centrifugal force of the rotating motor. The painting style used by Hirst can be considered a variant of the gestural painting technique of abstract expressionism as exemplified by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and his iconic “action paintings”, where he used sticks and paintbrushes to drip or pour paint onto the canvas without letting the tools come into contact with the surface. The paintings in Hirst’s Spin Paintings series are further characterised by their long titles, which often begin with the word “Beautiful” and end with “painting”.
Hirst has worked with a variety of painting techniques and motifs throughout his artistic career, and it is through the two series Spin Paintings and Spot Paintings that his painterly exploration has manifested itself. While the spontaneity of the Spin Paintings stands in contrast to the precisely organised dots in Spot Paintings, both series explore the idea of an imaginary mechanical painter. The Spin and Spot series also investigate, each in its own way, two fundamental forms of modernistic abstraction: gestural freedom and idealised geometry.
As early as the age of nine, in 1975, Hirst was introduced to the idea of spin paintings when he viewed a children’s television programme, Blue Peter. On the programme, presenter John Noakes demonstrated the technique used to make spin paintings, which were often seen at fun fairs and trade fairs. Hirst’s own experimentation with the technique as an art form began with the painting “Beautiful ray of sunshine on a rainy day painting” (1992), and he began working with his Spin series in earnest in 1994 while living in Berlin. A number of these Berlin works were shown at the exhibition making beautiful drawings: an installation at Bruno Brunnet Contemporary Fine Arts (Berlin, 1994). During the exhibition, viewers were invited to the gallery to make their own spin paintings for free on a rotating plate operated by a drill.
Since then Hirst has continued to produce spin paintings, and the painting “Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting” joins the ranks of unique, monumental individual pieces in a nearly interminable production series with innumerable colour combinations, motifs and idioms. The question has constantly arisen as to which side is “up” when mounting the paintings on a wall. This is also the case for “Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting”. Hirst answered the question when he showed a Spin painting that rotated mechanically on the wall at the exhibition No Sense of Absolute Corruption at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 1996. This work demonstrated that the motif could be mounted in several different directions, while at the same time the movement of the painting alluded to the method used to produce it.
The end result of the work “Beautiful, amore, gasp, eyes going into the top of the head and fluttering painting” and the other motifs in the Spin Paintings series emerges as a portrayal of the transitory moment. The motif itself is created by movement, and this movement can be perceived as a metaphor for life, Hirst has stated. The painting can thus become part of the overarching theme of Hirst’s work: life itself.