Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

Today, I finally managed to get to The Wallace Collection in the heart of London to see Damien Hirst‘s latest show, “No Love Lost”

The show marks a departure for Hirst, as he attempts to paint using oil paints by his own hand, rather than the style that has made him famous – usually executed by a trained army of technicians. As such I had high hopes for this show, as I was interested to see where Damien, a sculptor in the broadest sense, could take my discipline (“painting”).

Sadly I have to say I was distinctly unimpressed. I don’t say “unimpressed” in the throwaway sense, I mean that i was waiting for something about his paintings to impress something upon me. Nothing did.

I was not impressed by his draughtsmanship. There was nothing about the trees in particular that suggested any degree of mastery, the lemons looked flat and impact-less, and the best-rendered objects (the skulls) had no impact on me at all.

I was not impressed by any conceptual thinking. There is clearly some attempt at memento mori going on here, and the recurring motifs of his previous work suggest a man reflecting on the vanity of his career. But that’s about it. Not enough to sustain a body of work, not even for a whole show. There’s more than a nod to the work of Francis Bacon here, but to what end?

I’m not impressed by his technical ability. Some of the priming underneath the paint on one or two of the canvases has clearly cracked and curled in away that strikes me as too inept to be intentional.

I wasn’t scared by them, I wasn’t intimidated by them, I wasn’t amused by them… nothing.

My feeling is that they’re not good enough to show yet. Given Hirst another 5-10 years of painting, and then they might be good, but for me the only work worth looking at was the one labeled No. 2 Title: “Small Skull With Lemon and Ashtray.” You could quite conceivably walk in, look at that painting and walk straight out again. It would tell you all you need to know about this show, without you having to be disappointed by the rest of it.

Many years ago, the artist Gary Hume had a pop at Hirst’s inability to understand a few home truths about his work. With a wink and a smile, he said something along the lines of “Well, he’s not a painter, so he wouldn’t understand!” On the strength of this show, I’d have to say that Hume is right.

I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Hirst’s work, and I really wanted to like this show, but I didn’t. I’m happy, though, for him to continue working like this in anticipation that he’s going to get better at it. Here’s hoping.

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3 Responses to Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

  1. Thanks for the review artbizness…

    I like your honesty…good review…

  2. wekarea says:

    just thinking…it’s a bit like a reverse Duchamp situation. Where you have a conceptual sculptor (Damian) exhibiting paintings – and can because of their position: – compared to a respected painter (Duchamp) suddenly exhibiting a toilet in the middle of the room…

  3. Michael Radcliffe says:

    Abimbola: Thanks for your comment. Glad you found it a good read. 🙂

    Wek: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Damien has always been about the charm, and it’s almost more interesting to read the interviews around any show he has. They tend to create a sort of “Damien world” that is almost part of the work for me, and I think that is part of the “because he can” that you mentioned. What stops this from working fully however, the work can’t be poor. It can be good, he can even get away with it being average, but it can’t be a bad as this. It’s a real shame.

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