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Damien Hirst: Nothing Matters

November 29, 2009

White Cube Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square, London

hirst

Damien Hirst’s triptych, Insomnia 2008. Copyright Damien Hirst/ The White Cube

What can a portrait do to its subject, beyond the usual act of depiction? The question is unexpectedly raised in Damien Hirst‘s new two-site show. Among the many paintings of carrion crows, skulls, knives, empty pill bottles, corpses and other mortal intimations is a series of portraits in chalk white and inky blue. Each represents Angus Fairhurst, Hirst’s close friend and contemporary.

Fairhurst was 41 when he hanged himself at the close of his final show. Everyone spoke of his death with extraordinary sorrow. To those who only knew his droll and philosophical artworks, it became apparent that he was much loved as a person too. Hirst has painted not one but half-a-dozen portraits: keeping him present, keeping him going.

These canvases share their hues not just with Francis Bacon‘s early portraits but more obviously with blue period Picasso; which might make you think of Picasso’s memorials to his great friend, the painter Casagemas, who turned a gun on himself. But Picasso paints the apotheosis of Casagemas, his soul rising to heaven on an El Greco uprush of exorcism and prayer. What Hirst is doing is by no means so clear.

The Fairhurst portraits are perfectly recognisable and densely worked. You have the sense of an appearance coming and going – remembered, half-remembered – and of a character buried somewhere in the paint; clumsy, yet with something approaching force of personality.

Read more at: Reheated Bacon

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