Damien Hirst (b. 1965), Psalm 141: Domine, clamavi, 2008
Butterflies, household gloss and chrome lacquer on canvas
Diameter 45.7 cm
Price: £150,000 plus 5% import tax and any applicable taxes any applicable taxes
This work is one of one hundred and fifty ‘Psalms’ produced by Hirst, each named after a different Old Testament psalm. Each of Hirst’s ‘Psalms’ references spirituality and the butterfly’s natural metamorphosis. As early as 1989, Hirst began to employ butterflies as an artistic medium in his practice, and in his 1991 exhibition In & Out of Love, live specimens were featured emerging from their cocoons in two white, windowless rooms before ultimately dying, demonstrating the fleeting lifespan of the insect.
The ‘Psalm’ series similarly explores the theme of death through an interesting paradox: the butterfly’s remarkable ability to maintain its beauty even after death. Yet, moreover, the cyclical form of Hirst’s ‘Psalms’ draws on the themes of recurring life and death, as the butterfly feeds, mates, hatches, and metamorphosizes in a never-ending pattern.
In this series, Hirst also finds even darker interpretation, whereby each butterfly, despite being a dazzling paradigm of the natural world, constitutes a memento mori, reminding the beholder that life is fleeting and not timeless.
Hirst’s initial influence for his ‘Psalm’ series derived from Victorian tea trays, which were decorated with intricate patterns of butterfly wings. He saw the insect as a universal trigger, remarking that “everyone’s frightened of glass, everyone’s frightened of sharks, everyone loves butterflies.”
Damien Hirst’s book The Complete Psalm Paintings (London, 2014), illustrates works in the series in colour and discusses them in detail.