Playful is the word most suggested by the collection of Spot Paintings by Damien Hirst that sat in the Gagosian Gallery just off Oxford Street until recently.
Set in the tiny Davies Street gallery just a couple of minutes from the bustle of the most famous shopping street in the world, passers-by could be forgiven for not noticing the Spot Paintings. The gallery, consisting of just one room at street level, is hardly imposing.
If you weren’t rushing past with eyes lowered between the 12th of January and the 18th of February, however, you might have glanced up and noticed the exhibition through the gallery’s glass-front walls.
‘The Complete Spot Paintings: 1986-2011’, which showed simultaneously at eleven Gagosian Galleries across three continents, was an exhibition designed to celebrate 25 years of Spot Paintings by Hirst. The paintings themselves –circles, semi-circles, sometimes the occasional quarter circle of colour – were in their conception also meant as a celebration. The paintings were designed to “do nothing”, Hirst says, aside from ‘”pinning down the joy of colour”, of which as an artist he as a “phenomenal love”.
Reflecting out onto the street, with an ability to catch the passing pedestrian unawares (if they happen to glance for a second long enough), the setting of this collection of Spot Paintings does have an extremely joyful feel to it – it is almost childlike in its brightly coloured simplicity.
Almost like a test palette of colours, there doesn’t appear to be an order or symbolism behind the paintings that are on display. Rather than holding varying levels of meaning, they simply are – and in this case they are almost spilling out onto the street; a veritable onslaught of bright splashes that do their best to jump out on the passer-by and catch them unawares.
An expression of joy, then: a means to brighten up the everyday with a dashing of colour off the edge of the pavement, and the ability to make someone smile unexpectedly. In terms of celebration, it seems that the Spot Paintings have satisfied their job here.
The exhibitions of Spot Paintings across the world came ahead of a major retrospective of Hirst’s work, which will be on display at the Tate from April.