Damien Hirst’s Mandalas at White Cube

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Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition of new work is not only his first major show in London for seven years, but also sees him return to one of his most well-known motifs – the butterfly. It’s only running until 2 November at White Cube Mason's Yard though, so you’ll need to hurry to catch it.

As its name suggests, Mandalas takes its inspiration from the mandala: highly patterned religious images that represent the cosmos or universe in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Shinto traditions.

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Predominantly circular, they feature countless colourful butterfly wings placed into intricate concentric patterns on household gloss paint. At the centre is a single butterfly, which acts as a point of visual and mental focus; a spiritual or energy nexus.

Hirst’s work with butterflies dates back as early as 1989 and they’ve featured consistently in his work ever since. Referring to them as a ‘universal trigger’, he uses them to represent beauty, mortality and existence. By using their wings alone here, isolated from their whole-bodied reality, Hirst points to an idealised beauty as well as natural patterning.


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Damien Hirst S Mandalas At White Cube


Rod Mengham writes in the catalogue to accompany the exhibition: “Hirst’s prolonged exploration of the life cycle of the butterfly, its spectacular visual appeal, the mythological and cultural formations it has inspired, and the variety of forms of response it has provoked in both artists and scientists, is one of the most thoroughgoing and many-sided conceptual projects sustained by any contemporary artist.”

Mandalas also sees Hirst continue themes present in his earlier Kaleidoscope series (2001-present). Unlike his Kaleidoscope paintings’ connection with Christian iconography – one collection was named after entries in the Book of Psalms, and others replicated patterns from cathedral stained-glass windows – Hirst draws on Eastern philosophical traditions here.

He also favours a restrained palette in these works, featuring often tonal explorations of a single colour, and a textural, painterly surface in tension with the precision of their overall layout. Examples of this can be seen in several ‘shade’ or near-black paintings, such as the large-scale triptych The Creator (2019), and Obscuritas (2019), which uses rich, dark tones to create the effect of a receding three-dimensional vortex.


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