Damian Hurst is a little like Tracey Emin; it is too simple to say that you either love them or hate them. They provoke such ambivalent reactions from their peers and contemporaries, that the art they actually produce can sometimes be lost and forgotten amongst the brouhaha. As with Damian Hurst, his proclivity to shock and turn art on its head is well documented, but what is known of his paintings? Do they have the same effect to startle and surprise us with originality and inventiveness? Can he ever hope to capture the multi-layered response that accompanied his dead animals preserved in formaldehyde? It appears that the answer sadly is a resounding no. Now I may be no art critic but the general consensus of those in the know is that Mr Hurst cannot paint. This deluge of negative criticism may not come as a complete surprise for the artist as when he first exhibited a show of his paintings in October 2009, the lambasted No Love Lost exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London , it was universally panned by critic and fans alike.
Mark Hudson of the Daily Telegraph commented that it was “one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory.” Tom Lubbock of The Independent spoke about Hirst’s work being ‘derivative, weak and boring’, adding, “Hirst, as a painter, is at about the level of a not-very-promising, first-year art student.” Whilst Rachel Campbell-Johnston of The Times said it was “shockingly bad.” Now his latest exhibition appears to be faring no better as an art critic in The Guardian stated that Hurst “can kid himself he is an Old Master and have the art world go along with the fantasy.” This exhibition, which is being held at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey, is causing much publicity for Hurst but all it seems for the wrong reasons. Ben Luke, who writes for The London Evening Standard has much to say about the show of paintings. He states about Hurst that, “He gives a masterclass in inept drawing, unable to give anything a sense of its form, weight or depth, and the lines criss-crossing the painting, inspired by Francis Bacon’s “space frames”, only serve to weave a messy web over the chaos beneath.” Adding, “Hirst’s fame means no one stands in his way, and this show is an utter embarrassment for him and the gallery. Someone needs to put Hirst the painter out of his misery.” Perhaps that is the problem, that Hurst is now an untouchable figure within the art world, it could be a case of The Emperor With No Clothes’? Does no one in the art world dare to question Hurst anymore for fear of ridicule and not understanding his artistic bent?
The exhibition, which consists of more than 40 new paintings by Hirst, who painted them a couple of summers ago in the West Country, has a feeling of unease surrounding it, rather than pleasant expectation. With paintings that feature water jugs, parrots, an orange, a spray of cherry blossom, a blurry flurry of butterflies, the ubiquitous dots, this group of work seems to be a lesson in how not to paint still life. And in Hurst’s apathetic attempt to shock us still, we have to endure an open shark’s jaw, nestled next to a rabbit or magpie and try and make sense of it all. Many of Hursts’ critics are bemoaning the fact that he has taken to a paint brush as his sculptures can be a thing of wonderment and stay with you for many days. But Luke reiterates as he pities the now painter, “Showing the paintings in this abundance, one cringeworthy and wretched canvas after another, is like prolonging the suffering of a dying animal.” Whilst the artist Rik Rawling is much more forthright in his opinions, “Hirst made his name and fortunes by assiduously avoiding any old-fashioned displays of ability, in favour of the spectacle, the controversy, the lifestyle. But now he’s in his 50′s and run out of ideas, and with nothing left to prove, he’s rushing headlong into the twilight of irrelevance by trying to convince the world that, like his hero Bacon, he can paint. He can’t.” And Jonathan Jones agreed, describing Hurst’s paintings as “abominations unto the lord of Art.” Harsh words but they are unanimous words that appear on everyone’s lips, regarding this body of work.