Spot The Difference

Damien Hirst Spots
October 16, 2023
Spot The Difference

Hirst's artistic journey was shaped by his early admiration for prominent abstract expressionists like Pollock and Rothko. While developing his own style, he grappled with a fascination for and contempt towards the coldness of contemporary minimalism prevalent at the Tate Gallery during his formative years.


His initial foray into painting spots was characterized by loose, drippy paint, far from minimalism. Hirst, however, was dissatisfied with his initial efforts and promptly shifted to the iconic grid pattern we now associate with his work. He imposed strict rules on the collection: no repeated colors, each spot of the same size as the others. This scientific precision stood in stark contrast to the boundless emotion of abstract expressionism, marking Hirst as a trailblazer in contemporary art.


Damien Hirst, Cocarboxylase, 2010



Hirst's epiphany when he adopted the grid was a revelation. He realized that minimalism was not necessarily cold and disconnected. Instead of being moved by the artist's emotion, as in abstract expressionism, viewers were moved as individuals by the absence of emotion.

Over the years, the collection has generated significant controversy. This reached its peak when the Brooklyn-based creative collective MSCHF purchased a painting for $30,000, cut it into individual spots, and sold them for $480 each in a matter of hours. This scandal prompted fresh art criticism, notably from art dealer Michael Findlay, who compared Hirst's work to Starbucks, emphasizing the commodification of art.



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Hirst himself is a proponent of the assembly line approach to art creation. While he faced criticism for not personally producing his art, this concept is not new in art history. Artists like Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rubens had teams of assistants, and Warhol's factory was already famous during Hirst's studies.

For Hirst, art's essence lies in the conception, not the execution of an idea. The MSCHF scandal did not undermine his work; it reinforced it. He is fascinated by the idea of manufactured art, blurring the lines between human and machine creation. There is even a piece of code that can randomly generate Hirst-style paintings.


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The almost-unnatural precision of his work is disconcerting. Hirst challenges mass production by creating art that is almost satisfying but not excessively addictive. The Spot Paintings exude a sense of joy, albeit with an eerie undertone. They maintain consistency in form but not in hue.

This quality distinguishes Hirst's work as art rather than mere decoration. He comments on mass production and the commodification of art by creating something universally appealing while deconstructing the concept from within. His art possesses palpable energy, affecting viewers in a visceral way. The paintings live up to their biochemical names, even if they appear somewhat artificial.


Hirst has crafted art that is iconic and timeless. The apparent simplicity of the form belies the complexity of the overall composition, luring viewers into a deceptive sense of security. As a self-proclaimed 'colorist,' Hirst's Spot Paintings celebrate the diverse palette, with each dot representing a unique hue. It's challenging to imagine this collection ever becoming dated, as Hirst has pioneered his unique brand of abstract minimalism.


Pleasing both optimists and dissenters alike, the Spot Paintings are an innovation in both science and art. Through this collection, Hirst has established himself as an artist who not only creates art but also creates a movement.


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About the author

Alex Yellop