Does Damien Hirst ever sit still? Apparently not. The contemporary artist and collector has a brand new exhibition, Colour Space Painting and Outdoor Sculptures, at Houghton House in Norfolk.
Most of us are familiar with Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings - canvases featuring grids of spots, each painted a different colour with no apparent pattern or motive. Once described by Hirst as ‘a way of pinning down the joy of colour,’ the 1000-plus grids in the series have recently morphed into something more free-flowing - a series titled Colour Space. And they’ve found a temporary home at Houghton Hall in Norfolk.
To give you a little context, the Palladian-style house was built in 1720 as a home for the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and its interiors were designed to reflect his status. If you’re thinking lavish decor, with plenty of gilding and carving, you’re on the right lines. Not necessarily the obvious location for Hirst’s exhibition, Colour Space Painting and Outdoor Sculptures then?
Well, maybe. But Walpole happened to be a prolific collector of art – he amassed one of the greatest collections of European art in Britain during his lifetime – and so the grand space is ideal for exhibiting large-scale works. Plus, as an artist known for disrupting the status quo, Hirst’s latest pieces have a transformative effect on these traditional gilded interiors (and the well-manicured gardens of the estate, too).
It’s slightly strange looking at this collision of old and new - you wouldn’t expect it to work. But, oddly, the motion of the swirling colours within these new paintings brings something fresh into the space. A burst of organic energy. And it does more than simply work, it actually mesmerises you a little.
‘I originally wanted the Spots to look like they were painted by a human trying to paint like a machine,’ says Hirst. ‘Colour Space is going back to the human element, so instead you have the fallibility of the human hand in the drips and inconsistencies. There are still no two exact colours that repeat in each painting, which is really important to me. I think of them as cells under a microscope.’
Hirst’s paintings open up Houghton’s State Rooms like portals between two (highly colour saturated) worlds and, with a couple of his kinetic ‘Levitation’ sculptures installed for good measure, all your senses get involved. You can almost hear the art, as well as see it.
This experience of the unexpected extends beyond the House itself, into the grounds where several of Hirst’s most celebrated sculptures have been placed. In these perfectly groomed gardens, the last thing you’d anticipate stumbling across is ‘Charity’ - a giant painted bronze sculpture of a young girl with a brace on her leg, based on a familiar 20th-century charity collection box - or the three-tonne male anatomical model, ‘Temple’. Sculpture demands space to be viewed properly though – you’re meant to be able to walk around it and take in every angle – so in this environment that’s far removed from the traditional gallery or urban location, Hirst’s pieces look a little different. They reveal themselves in a new light.
‘It felt right to show them somewhere historic rather than in a conventional gallery space,’ says Hirst. ‘And Houghton’s perfect. It feels totally right.’
We’d agree with that. It’s definitely worth a trip to Norfolk and, if/ when you do visit, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it – just drop us a message via one of our social media channels, or pop in and have a chat with our art advisors in the gallery.
Colour Space Painting and Outdoor Sculptures is open at Houghton House, Norfolk until 15 July 2018. For more information, visit houghtonhall.com
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