Hirst tackles painting with nod to Bacon, Richter

Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:24am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - British artist Damien Hirst has made a reputation, and sizeable fortune, from suspending animals in formaldehyde and filling medicine cabinets with pills.

Now one of the world's most successful living artists has returned to more traditional territory of painting, and this time, unlike his mass-produced canvases covered in colored spots, the 44-year-old actually executed them himself.

Hirst has displayed 25 new paintings, mostly featuring white skulls on blue-black backgrounds, at London's Wallace Collection, a family collection of old masters housed in gilded, silk-walled opulence.

"It's quite funny isn't it? You kind of think you've done all of that formaldehyde work, and then it's a real shock that you're doing something quite straightforward," Hirst told a small group of reporters at the museum Tuesday.

"When I've got them (the new paintings) up in my studio next to spot paintings and spin paintings, they look kind of old fashioned. But when you put them here they look kind of contemporary. It's all about context."

Hirst was quick to play down comparisons between his own works and those by the old masters hanging at the Wallace including Rembrandt, Velazquez and Poussin.

"Rembrandt or Titian or Velazquez in the other room are just phenomenal painters," he said. "But ... art's all about making a comment about the world. I think today you can't have the same impact that those guys had so you can't really compare.

"There's too much going on (today). When they were painting there were paintings, there was no Hollywood, there was no plastic surgery, advertising, TV. We live in such a crazy world now I think a mere painting on that level doesn't really work."   Continued...