Damien Hirst b. 1965
Butterfly wings and household gloss on canvas
213.4 x 213.4cm.
i. flies and resin on canvas
ii. butterfly wings and household gloss on canvas
each: 213.4 by 213.4cm.; 84 by 84in.
overall: 213.4 by 426.8cm.; 84 by 168in.
Executed in 2004-05.
White Cube, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 2005
Hirst’s oeuvre has always been dominated by references to Death, Mortality and Religion. The visual language of Judgement Day/Atonement is the perfect example of such narrative. Manifested by the use of butterflies and flies, the present work articulates a grand existential allegory for life and death.
The role of flies in this monochromic masterwork symbolise a metaphor for the cycle of life and as such is the embodiment of Hirst’s obsession with death. As Damien explained,: “I think it was Thomas Hobbes who said people are like flies, like the cycle of a fly is like your own life. When you make that connection with the paintings… it is like all the people in the world who die in a hundred years. That amount of death is pretty black” (Damien Hirst interviewed by Mirta D’Argenzio in: Exhibition Catalogue, Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Damien Hirst: The Agony and the Ecstasy Selected Works from 1989-2004, 2004-05, p. 94).
To the contrary of the vivid black image of death and decay, the neighbouring canvas represents delicate and fragile expression of the beauty of life. Vivid and kaleidoscopic, the fragmented composition of butterfly bestow, carefully arranged to reference the spiritual symbolism of the butterfly. In Christian Imagery, utilised by Renaissance masters butterfly would often signify the resurrection.
According to the Christian Doctrine, the dead will rise and their souls will finally be judged and consigned to heaven or hell. In Judgement Day/Atonement, Hirst references this iconographic theme. The illuminating, ethereal butterflies juxtaposed against an unnerving mausoleum of flies indicate righteous souls sitting on the right-hand side of Christ being conducted towards heaven, while on the left sinners are driven towards eternal suffering.
In the present work the two separate canvases join together to form a cohesive representation of death and resurrection. For Hirst, “each part of a pair has its own life, independent of the other, but they live together” (Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2002, p.131).
For Stellar, the relevance of this narrative is even more poignant in today’s current climate, with the Circle of Life and the idea of Rebirth integral to today’s circumstances; we can only hope that the Post Covid Art World will have a resurrection and a new start.