Damien Hirst: He laughs in the face of death – Telegraph
As a composition, the black and white photograph is unremarkable: no doubt it was hastily taken, for reasons made clear by its content. On the left is a young man he was 16 at the time with dark bristling hair and a chunky ribbed sweater, leaning low over a polished steel surface, the raised and squared-off edge of which reveals it to be a mortuary table.
The young man is looking directly at the camera and grinning broadly, perhaps a little too broadly to convince us of his levity, because beside him on the table is the fat, bald, severed head of a man in late middle age. They look, this grinning boy and his new dead acquaintance, like the traditional graphic personifications of Comedy and Tragedy: one maniacally beaming or guffawing, the other frowning and puckered, mouth down-turned.
Damien Hirst’s With Dead Head 1991 is in part a record of his early fascination with the physical reality of death and the medico-scientific apparatuses that surround it. In his late teens, partly under the influence of Francis Bacon, he amassed – mostly by stealing – a large collection of pathology books, and was especially keen on volumes concerned with burns. He was drawn, he says, to the combination of hideous subject matter and pristine, detached photography; the books contained “delicious, desirable images”.
As a precursor to Hirst’s later conjunctions of dead animal matter – or representations of human death – with the gleaming metal and glass vitrine, With Dead Head is almost too good to be true. Here, it seems to proclaim, is Damien Hirst doing what we think Damien Hirst is meant to do: confronting us with the dismal but fascinating actuality of death and adopting a gleeful attitude to mortality.
Strange Random Death Quote:
“He was a great patriot, a humanitarian, a loyal friend – provided, of course, that he really is dead.” – Voltaire (French Philosopher and Writer. One of the greatest of all French authors, 1694-1778)
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