It’s about violence and danger and escapism and death and warning signs and being safe or getting caught.
Gagosian is pleased to present Emergency Paintings, Danger Paintings, Hazard Pictures and Seizures, the third phase of Damien Hirst’s yearlong takeover of the Britannia Street gallery. The exhibition features paintings, photographs, and sculptures that address the experiences and emotions of warning, danger, crime, rescue, and death. The works take their inspiration from a variety of sources, including the bold designs on emergency vehicles, the skins of dangerous animals, and media images of police activity. The exhibition follows the inaugural installment in the takeover sequence, Fact Paintings and Fact Sculptures, and the second, Relics and Fly Paintings.
The Emergency Paintings series (2014–16) was born from long car journeys during which Hirst was struck by the graphics emblazoned on emergency vehicles and their use of color as a warning. He took photos of these disturbing and beautiful designs with his phone and incorporated their high-visibility stripes and chevrons into his paintings. Powerfully conveying a sense of real-world crisis, these works also evoke the hard-edge abstractions of such painters as Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella. Featured alongside the paintings is a framed selection of Hirst’s original source photos, which the artist values for their raw documentary quality: “They aren’t careful or considered. . . . They are quick and easy snaps taken as the world was flying by,” he remarks, “and all the better for it.”
Also on view at Britannia Street are several smaller oil-on-canvas compositions from the related series Danger Paintings (2016). These show close-up views of the skin of dangerous animals including poisonous frogs, snakes, insects, and sea creatures—living things that employ color and pattern to signal their danger to potential predators. As Hirst notes, this coloration represents “a thing that nature does that’s similar to what we do on emergency vehicles. We stole the idea from nature, of course, and hid it in geometry.”
Finally, the exhibition includes several sculptures based on media photographs of police drug seizures, in which large quantities of illegal substances are displayed to promote the authorities’ success. The Seizures series (2021) represents a continuation of Hirst’s long-standing fascination with drugs and medicine—which has also resulted in such iconic series as Instrument Cabinets, Medicine Cabinets, and Pill Cabinets—and reflects his interest in and use of systems of taxonomy and display.