Jim Cowan, OCA tutor and blogger sees red.
‘This is Damien Hirst’s third exhibition in London this year, this time at the White Cube Gallery. The first was of his Spot Paintings, some of which were exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery and the rest simultaneously at other venues throughout the world. As an ambassador for Britain’s Cultural Olympiad, we have the selected retrospective at Tate Modern that ends on 9th September this year. The third exhibition is at the White Cube Bermondsey where he is exhibiting newly completed ‘unassisted’ paintings in an exhibition called ‘Two Weeks One Summer’
When Hirst last exhibited works by his own hand, at the Wallace Collection in 2009, the press were not enthusiastic about his efforts. It was felt that these paintings, which were hung near to works by Titian, Valazqueth, Rubens and Van Dyck, were there to position Hirst, the most successful artist of his generation with those great artists of the past. The consensus of opinion was that Damien lacked the painterly skills to make that comparison believable.
Now, at the White Cube Gallery, he is again showing his own paintings undeterred by hostile reviews and with the confidence that only his powerful position in the contemporary art world can provide. The results are dire. In a gallery the size of two football pitches, he is displaying 35 paintings, the subject matter of which revisit the great Memento Mori paintings of the past as best seen in the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Hirst’s variations of this theme depict birds, rabbits, oranges and lemons, jugs, foetuses in glass cases along with branches of cherry blossom, all with varying degrees of ineptitude.
The artist he wishes most to emulate is Francis Bacon and badly drawn space frames litter the canvases. It is the Bacon of the 1950s Businessman series and the same dark blue tonality pervades the pictures. When Damien won the Turner Prize in 1995 he said in his acceptance speech that “ …it’s amazing what you can do with an E grade in A level art, a twisted imagination and a chain saw…’” Today, without the chain saw and with little imagination, we are just left with the E grade in A Level Art. As the most financially successful living artist in the world today, Hirst thinks that it is enough to pick up a brush and canvas, and without any training, application or subject knowledge and with little sensibility for the medium create masterpieces. His position is such that he can employ a curator from the Prado Gallery in Madrid to compare his work to the likes of Caravaggio and Velázquez.
These days traditional art practice is neglected in university art departments. Students are encouraged to take the easier options rather than follow the disciplines required for representational painting. As students they are encouraged in the misguided belief that anything is art as long as they say it is.
Damien’s bafflement is a result of this inevitable decline in standards. With the aid of technicians, fabricators, business managers, dealers, auction houses and assistants, Hirst has risen to the top rung of the international art world but under his own steam he struggles with the basic competences of representation. The Open College of the Arts has courses in Drawing or Painting, which may help, but hopefully Hirst will realise his limitations and return to the safety of dots, tanks, formaldehyde solution and the Carolina Biological Supply Company Science catalogue (a source for much of his work), plus near universal acclaim.’