Damien Hirst, ‘Narcissistic Love’, 2007, Martin Lawrence Galleries

Hirst’s fascination with the themes of death and love - and with the human experience of these life events - is well-documented. In particular, the titles of his works reflect his enduring interest in the subjects and Narcissistic Love is no exception.

Hirst’s butterfly-related works fall into two categories: Kaleidoscope Paintings and Butterfly Colour Paintings. The Kaleidoscope Paintings become intensely vivid mosaics with the visual effect of Op Art, utilizing wings of butterflies as the tiles. Referencing the Kaleidoscope Paintings, Hirst’s website notes that:

The ‘Kaleidoscope’ paintings reference the spiritual symbolism of the butterfly, used by the Greeks to depict Psyche, the soul, and in Christian imagery to signify the resurrection. The works are reminiscent of, and even sometimes directly copy stained glass windows (‘South Rose Window, Lincoln Cathedral’ (2007)). Their titles similarly often reference Christian iconography, and Hirst chose to name a collection of paintings in 2008 after entries in The Book of Psalms.

The Butterfly Colour Paintings – which include Narcissistic Love - become abstract paintings as the insects land seemingly randomly on the freshly-painted surface. They are his earliest works using butterflies and their humble origin is described on Hirst’s website:

"You paint the walls white, and then life comes in and @#$%^ it up. Like minimal paintings that have been @#$%^& up by butterflies landing in paint."

Shortly after graduating, Hirst began work on a series of paintings inspired by seeing flies get stuck on primed canvases in his Brixton studio. Taking this idea but wanting to create something beautiful, Hirst started fixing the bodies of dead butterflies to monochrome gloss-painted canvases. The following year, he incorporated a number of similar works into ‘In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays)’ (1991), part of his installation titled ‘In and Out of Love’ (1991). Describing their visual effect as: “solid @#$%^&* gloss-paint horror,” the choice of household gloss is integral to the works, intended by Hirst to “look like an accident of paint with butterflies stuck on it”.

For more than two decades, Hirst has continued to integrate butterflies into his work, incorporating whole bodies, wings and living specimen. Hirst’s relationship with butterflies became complicated with In and Out of Love, a 2012 exhibition at the Tate Modern during which it was reported that Hirst killed more than 9,000 butterflies during the 23 weeks of the exhibition. The butterflies died primarily from visitors brushing them off when they landed on their clothing or by being stepped on. Species in the exhibition were Owl and Heliconius varieties which originate in the tropics and whose lifespan would have been significantly longer than that which they experienced in the exhibition. There was significant press criticism and coverage of this exhibition and the issues which surrounded Hirst’s inclusion of living things.

Image rights: Martin Lawrence Galleries

About Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst first came to public attention in London in 1988 when he conceived and curated "Freeze," an exhibition in a disused warehouse that showed his work and that of his friends and fellow students at Goldsmiths College. In the nearly quarter of a century since that pivotal show (which would come to define the Young British Artists), Hirst has become one of the most influential artists of his generation. His groundbreaking works include The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a shark in formaldehyde; Mother and Child Divided (1993) a four-part sculpture of a bisected cow and calf; and For the Love of God (2007), a human skull studded with 8,601 diamonds. In addition to his installations and sculptures, Hirst’s Spot paintings and Butterfly paintings have become universally recognized.

British, b. 1965, Bristol, United Kingdom, based in London, United Kingdom