Damien Hirst: Cherry Blossoms
Foundation Cartier, Paris
July 6, 2021 through January 22, 2022
By COCO DOLLE, July 2021
Hello world from Paris, France! For the past three years, the wild art child Damien Hirst has been painting his own canvases and the entire art world is aware of it. “Cherry Blossoms” is his first solo exhibition in France, which is set in the prestigious Parisien institution Fondation Cartier. Displaying thirty larger than life-size canvases of cropped and close-ups of imagery of blossoming trees, the setting transported me back to memories and impressions of Monet’s wall size “Lilies' ' paintings at Musée de l’Orangerie. The exhibition was crowded with people of all age ranges. Benches were available to sit on and enjoy the work.
Yes, Damien’s paintings were impressive in size and, yes, they conveyed a collective romanticism of cheerful soothing and contemplative art. The paintings combined thick brushstrokes and gestural painting against a super flat sky blue background. The heavy white and pink dots created the effect of depth with few markings for the leaves. The overall feeling felt much like being surrounded by a pleasant garden atmosphere.
Claiming historical reference to the French masters of Pointillism and Impressionism, Damien’s entire body of work “Cherry Blossoms” consists of over 100 large-format canvases plus hundreds more of mini and medium-sized formats. In an interview with Tim Marlow commissioned for the exhibition, Damien explains that his original idea came from remembering his childhood as his mother had genuinely painted cherry blossoms. Damien was then four years old and his “mum” wouldn’t let him use her oil paints because “they’re too messy”. So Damien was left with the fascination and urge to play with them. Views from his studios displayed floors filled with large buckets of oil paints and brushes on wood sticks, so we understood that the artist was hard at work alone.
An idea started in 2018, the painting series largely benefited and flourished during the pandemic as the artist dived into solitary confinement and worked alone in the studio. Stripped down from his army of assistants, Damien was, like most of us, left to himself facing his own techniques and limitations. During this time, Damien heavily used his instagram handle in parallel to his studio practice, documenting his painterly actions, raising both critical comments and “AWWWs” from his lovers and haters. Alternating content with a retrospective of his conceptual works and a series of questions/answers from his fans titled “psychiatrist’s couch”, his desire to come closer and share with his public seemed to be coming from personal intent rather than from a marketing strategy. The live sessions show the artist in his studio on a break from cherry blossom painting, wearing but a scrappy old t-shirt stained with oil paints.
The parallel with his earlier spot paintings is unavoidable. His dot paintings then were super flat and perfectly executed by his studio assistants. Now they are coarse and messy by the markings of his own hand, conveying a sentiment of imperfection. It felt more personal. It felt more emotional. It does feel different from the shocking conceptual works we know of him. With his tree blossoms' prouesse, he permeates simple human feelings, giving us a sentiment of rebirth, giving us permission to delve into a more fleeting nature of life.
Though as soon as we step outside this temporary garden of delights, we are quickly reminded of his fundamental ambitions. Damien’s experimental and playful nature prevails. Damien never stops. He’s been back at work with a new crypto currency. He just finished creating 10,000 NFTs corresponding to 10,000 physical artworks that he signed one by one and placed in boxes. He then launched a massive open call for purchase. The question we ask ourselves that he brings himself in the end is: “But is it art?”. WM
Coco Dolle is a French-American artist, writer, and independent curator based in New York since the late 90s. Former dancer and fashion muse for acclaimed artists including Alex Katz, her performances appeared in Vogue and The NY Times. Over the past decade, she has organized numerous exhibitions acclaimed in high-end publications including Forbes, ArtNet, VICE, and W Magazine. She is a contributing writer for L’Officiel Art and Whitehot Magazine. As an artist, her work focuses on body politics and feminist issues as seen at the Oregon Contemporary (OR) and Mary Ryan Gallery (NYC).
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