Damien Hirst is a controversial artist associated with the Young British Artists group. YBA was a group who exhibited together in 1988 and onwards after graduating, and were supported by Charles Saatchi. The group became renowned for their shock tactics, something which I consider Hirst to have held onto throughout the continuation of his career. He is greatly known for his works involving and exploring the theme of death, using preserved animal corpses and creating and ending the lifespan of flies, all of which are shown on his website.
Hirst’s work tends to push the boundary on art and science, using techniques which are not readily available to the everyday working artist. He also has a team of technicians which assist him in the physical creation of his pieces. ‘St Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain 2006’, being a bronze sculpture seems like a very traditional method of Hirst to have chosen. Perhaps he wanted to mirror the traditions of his Catholic upbringing, where he heard the story and saw images of the skinned apostle originally. I saw this piece in person at the Crucible Exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral back in 2010, and wouldn’t have known that it was by the famous Damien Hirst if I hadn’t read the information.
The image of the skinned apostle is not new. There are other visual representations of the story painted and sculpted throughout history. It may well be that Hirst’s exploration of the subject matter is more anatomically correct and perhaps gruesome. There seems to be a pride in the way he holds up the cutting instruments, with his skin still hanging onto his arm, like a strange and gorey call to war.
On his website it reads,
‘Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain’ acts as a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development. Hirst explains that historically, depictions of Saint Bartholomew (the patron saint of doctors and surgeons) were often used by medics to aid their anatomy studies. In Hirst’s interpretation, the serene saint stands on a table littered with the tools used to make the original sculpture. He holds a scalpel, as according to traditional depictions, but also a pair of scissors. Inspired by Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990), this addition implies that “his exposure and pain is seemingly self- inflicted. It’s kind of beautiful yet tragic.”
His own interpretation of his work gives a lot of food for thought. It makes me wonder how Hirst feels about his own mortality, especially seeing as it is such a prominent theme throughout his practice.