While I was at work, Sciencepunk beat me to posting that Damien Hirst (of dead-shark fame) has created an original artwork for the anniversary reissue of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:


Human skull in space (oil on canvas)
Damien Hirst

Hirst says:

As in a lot of my work, there’s a nod to the scientific.

The painting sits firmly in the tradition of “still life” and is made up of objects I’ve come to imbue with my own meanings, some of them Darwinian in origin, and that I guess are seen in other areas of my work. The painting has an X-ray-like quality to it, as if it is revealing something about the structure of the objects painted.

I suppose the work, in a modest way, acknowledges Darwin’s analytical mind and his courage to believe in those ideas that questioned the very fabric of existence and belief in his time. (source)

Huh. Is that an ashtray on the glass block with the knife and skull?

I kind of. . . hate this painting.


  1. #2 Mo
    January 27, 2009

    It’s definitely an ashtray. I noticed it immediately, but I think my brain actively repressed it, because it just shouldn’t be there.

    For some reason, it made me think of this; I see a similarity between what at first glance appeared to be vertebrae in Hirst’s painting and the blood vessels of the chest in d’Agoty’s.

  2. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    January 27, 2009

    I don’t like it, either. It’s not even painted well. It looks like the preliminary study for a real painting.

  3. #4 arioch
    January 28, 2009

    Have you seen the painting in person or just on your monitor?
    It’s aura may be disturbed in viewing it on a screen. Art is art. Why is it not a real painting? Is it paint on a plane? All paintings before they are a form are just color and shape arranged on a canvas. Could a classical masterpiece be considered a study for future artists? Not liking it is fine, but so is liking it.

  4. #5 LadyMeerkat
    January 28, 2009

    Thus removing all doubt that the man has no talent for art only media wh@ring. That piece is, excuse my ‘French’ $h!thouse* He can’t even draw an ellipse properly. Maybe it’s a petri dish but he lacks the skills to draw it properly so it looks like an ashtray.

    Oh and I won’t be offended if you don’t publish this comment I just wanted to let you know you’re not the only who sees the emperor has no clothes. I happen to know someone who studied at the same university in art and he doesn’t think much of him either!

    *that might be an insult limited to Australia. It means it’s crap like an outdoor toilet.

  5. #6 Jeffrey Reiser
    January 28, 2009

    Are we back to trepanation here? It is very evocative of that earlier thread.

  6. #7 Mrs. Grackle
    January 28, 2009

    I like the painting. What I don’t like is that someone chose it as the cover for this commemorative edition of the Origin. That’s a disappointment and I wouldn’t buy it. The painting is dark, moody, fatalistic. It looks like the skeleton of a suicide and contains suicidal references. The skeleton appears trapped in solitary confinement and is accompanied by a knife and an ashtray, which are clearly related to death in one form or another. And both are perched on the edge of the box, as if about to fall. I’m not sure what Hirst means by “Darwinian in origin”, but it sounds like he’s scrambling for an explanation as to why he thinks this piece evokes one of the greatest works in science. For a book that opened the world to, well, the WORLD, this seems a very inappropriate choice.

  7. #8 carrie
    January 29, 2009

    That skeleton needs to smoke!
    It’s scientific!

    (I also find this painting to be a poor choice for the cover. As someone who spends a lot of time reviewing art comics and seeing the work of amazing illustrators, it is kind of insulting to the reading audience that they couldn’t find someone more suited to the project.)

  8. #9 michael5000
    January 30, 2009

    Kind of a quick-and-dirty version of Francis Bacon’s famous “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” innit?'s_Portrait_of_Pope_Innocent_X

  9. #10 Jan-Maarten
    January 30, 2009

    The ashtray, the dots, the skull; all these elements are references to earlier works of Hirst (just picture google for “hirst ashtray”). The illustration is self-referential, with a very tenuous link to Darwin at best. He kind of acknowledges that in the statement quoted above!

    Probably the people who asked Damien Hirst to do this piece were just hoping for some media attention.

  10. #11 Jessica Palmer
    January 30, 2009

    Francis Bacon creeps me out MUCH more effectively than Damien Hirst any day.

  11. #12 Hungry Hyaena
    February 1, 2009

    To be sure, the painting ain’t very exciting. Neither, however, is it “$h!thouse,” as an earlier commenter declared.

    Hirst is a talented promoter and clever provocateur. For many art viewers those skills aren’t enough to make Hirst worthy of art world canonization. Looking at the vast majority of his works, I’m inclined to agree. A lot of Hirst’s ideas involve throwing the afore-mentioned sh*t at the wall to see what sticks. He has a knack, however, for picking up the stickiest patties.

    Like it or not, he is an important artist, and he will not be as easily relegated to the dustbin of art history as his detractors like to portend.

  12. #13 Jon H
    February 3, 2009

    “Maybe it’s a petri dish but he lacks the skills to draw it properly so it looks like an ashtray.”

    It’s definitely an ashtray – the notches are the giveaway. Not even poorly rendered ellipses would have notches like that.

  13. #14 Jon H
    February 3, 2009

    Oh, and I agree that it’s a piss-poor choice for the cover.

    There’s nothing in that which conveys any sense of the wonder and beauty of life in all its forms.

    Hell, that’s the cover a militant Creationist would choose if they wished to portray evolution as a godless, soulless, hopeless, cold, thing of pointless struggle and death.

  14. #15 David
    September 17, 2009

    hmmm, Hirst is well known for his obvious plagiary and this painting looks JUST like it could have been done by Francis Bacon. no? Other than that I think its a very good painting, it has an eerie quality and it is well painted, although it was more than likely painted by one of his assistants…

  15. #16 junker barlow
    October 2, 2009

    He’s a tiresome and shallow fellow, as his appearance on tonights Front Row, R4, testifies.

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