Fact painting

, 2012

‘Lycaena phlaeas’ (2009 - 2010). Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

“A photograph is from a moment. Painting is about stopping to look at the world, considering it, and giving it more importance.”[1] 

Hirst began work on the ‘Fact’ painting series in 2000. His goal with this series has always been to attempt to reproduce photographs exactly in complete, realistic detail through the traditional medium of oil on canvas. The paintings explore our relationship with imagery. Hirst explains: “I want you to believe in them in the same way as you believe in the ‘Medicine Cabinets.’ I don’t want them to look clever, but to convince you. I’m using painting to produce something that looks like a bad quality reproduction – the painting process is hidden as it is in my work ‘Hymn’, which looks like plastic, but is bronze underneath.”[2]

The first exhibition of the works, ‘The Elusive Truth’, was presented by Gagosian Gallery, New York in 2005. The exhibited paintings were taken largely from colour newspaper images. Hirst explains their significance: “Art has been in a constant battle for hundreds of years with every other kind of image-making… newspapers are supposed to be about facts and truth, and you believe you get a true view of the world from these images when you don’t: they’re completely fake.”[3] Hirst had been absorbed with these themes for the duration of his artistic career. In 1991, on the occasion of ‘Internal Affairs’, his exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, he stated: “I’m aware of mental contradictions in everything […] Images can live forever and we are constantly being convinced that they are real.”[4]

The paintings have taken various other photographic themes as their subject matter since 2000, including: details from Hirst’s own work, personal photographs of the birth of the artist’s son ('Birth (Cyrus)' (2006)); famous diamonds (‘Mouawad Splendour’ (2007); scientific photo library pictures of butterflies (‘Lycaena Phlaeas’ (2009–2010)); and biopsies. It is only with the most recent series that Hirst has felt the paintings are true evocations of photographs.


[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Epiphany: A Conversation with Damien Hirst’, Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘End of an Era’ (Other Criteria/Gagosian Gallery, 2012), unpag.

[2] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Interview with Damien Hirst’, Sarah Kent (Time Out, November 2006)

[3] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Interview with Damien Hirst June-September 2006’ Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘In the darkest hour, there may be light: Works from Damien Hirst’s murderme collection’, (Serpentine Gallery/Other Critieria, 2006) unpag.

[4] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Damien Hirst & Sophie Calle’, ‘Internal Affairs’ (ICA/Jay Jopling, 1991), unpag.