‘The movement sort of implies life’
With its surging, radial bursts of colour flung outward from the centre of a circular canvas, Beautiful, why don't you just kiss my fucking tits painting (1996) is a spectacular example of Damien Hirst’s Spin Paintings. Executed at the peak of the artist’s early rise to critical acclaim, it takes its place within the ecstatic first wave of what is now recognised as one of Hirst’s most iconic series of works. A complementary Spin Painting – Beautiful, kiss my fucking ass painting – was shown in ‘Sensation’, the landmark 1997 exhibition of works from the Saatchi collection that launched Hirst to global stardom. Created by pouring household emulsion paint onto a rapidly rotating canvas, these kaleidoscopic works harness the centrifugal dynamic of the spinning motion to mesmerising optical effect. They are defined by lengthy, evocative titles, beginning with ‘Beautiful’ and followed by an exclamatory stream of nouns, verbs, adjectives and expletives whose frenetic rhythm mirrors the rapid acceleration of the spun surface. As the present work’s title expresses, there is an almost erotic release in these explosions of beauty. In their vibrant pyrotechnics of colour, movement, liberation, chance and spontaneity, they mark a break from the formaldehyde visions of death and decay that characterised Hirst’s earlier work, as well as eschewing the ordered formal structures of his preceding Spot Paintings. With their appearance controlled purely by the artist’s choice of colour and the movement of the spin machine, the Spin Paintings embody Hirst’s ongoing enquiry into the external forces that determine the nature of human existence. As the artist has asserted, ‘The movement sort of implies life’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 221).
The deceptive simplicity of the spin painting method – like much of Hirst’s most powerful work – is grounded in a fundamental interrogation of art’s purpose. The artist has described how his Spin Paintings were inspired by childhood memories of watching Blue Peter presenter John Noakes demonstrate a version of the technique using a motorised cardboard spinning machine. ‘I remember thinking “that’s fun, whereas art is something more serious”’, he recalls. ‘And then as I got older, I started thinking about Van Gogh and all those painters, and cutting your ear off when you’re painting, and at that point I thought, “Why does it have to be like that?” I thought, “No, actually, the better art is the art made with the spin machine”’ (D. Hirst, BBC News, 29 August 2012, http://www.bbc. co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19399198). It was in a similar context that Hirst would launch his own spin painting practice in 1993, manning a stall at Joshua Compston’s anarchic Hoxton street fair A Fête Worse than Death. The notorious performance artist Leigh Bowery transformed Hirst and Angus Fairhurst into clowns, and visitors were invited to create their own Spin Paintings, signed by the artists upon their completion, for a fee of £1. In 1994, whilst living in Berlin, Hirst had his own spin machine manufactured, and it was from this point that the series truly began to 130 take shape. Created just two years later, the present work embodies the euphoric spirit of these early explorations.
As the Spin Paintings became increasingly popular, Hirst never lost his childlike sense of wonder in the process that had inspired him as a young boy. It remained, for him, ‘a miracle of technology’. ‘I really like making them’, he professed. ‘And I really like the machine, and I really like the movement. Every time they’re finished, I’m desperate to do another one’ (D. Hirst, quoted in D. Hirst and G. Burn, On the Way to Work, London 2001, p. 221). Ultimately, these works function as uninhibited celebrations of the power of painting: by removing his own hand directly from the process, Hirst reawakens a primal sense of awe in paint’s unpredictable possibilities. They take their place in art history with joyful bravado: the mechanical application of dripped paint parodies the considered personal expression of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, while the rejection of manual intervention alludes to the audacity of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. As Mario Codognato has written, the Spin Paintings ‘make the colours participate in a primordial state, where order and creation dissolve and disengage from the mediation of thought and representation, to become pure expression of the basic and vital gesture of painting and its mythology’ (M. Codognato, ‘Warning Labels’, in Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 2004, p. 42).