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Did Damien Hirst Rip Off Aboriginal Australian Artists’s Work?

Australian artists and dealers claim ‘uncanny’ similarities between Hirst’s ‘Veil Paintings’ and landscapes of the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Hirst and his ‘Veil Paintings’, 2018. Courtesy: Instagram and the artist

Hirst and his ‘Veil Paintings’, 2018. Courtesy: Instagram and the artist

Hirst and his ‘Veil Paintings’, 2018. Courtesy: Instagram and the artist

Damien Hirst’s ‘Veil Paintings’ works – recently on show at Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles (ranging from USD$500,000 to $1.7 million) – have come under fire for their similarity to the work of female Aboriginal artists, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who died in 1996.

Hirst maintains that his latest paintings draw on the artists Pierre Bonnard and George Seurat, as well as his own ‘Visual Candy’ works (1993–95). Australian art professionals dispute the claim, arguing that Hirst’s artworks are deeply influenced by the brightly coloured dot paintings of indigenous female artists from the Utopia community, Alice Springs, Australia.

Art dealer Christopher Hodges, owner of Utopia Art Sydney (who represented Kngwarreye), told the Guardian that the resemblance was ‘uncanny’. And artist and Arts Law Centre board member Bronwyn Bancroft told ABC that Hirst had a moral obligation ‘to indicate the influence for this last series of work actually came from an Aboriginal art movement.’ Representatives for Hirst said that the artist was not aware of these works. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Hirst commented: ‘The Veil Paintings are a development of a series Damien made in 1993–1995 called Visual Candy and are inspired by pointillist techniques and Impressionist and post-impressionist painters such as Bonnard and Seurat. Damien was unaware of the work or artist in question, but he has huge respect for the importance of the value of art in all cultures.’

Meanwhile New York’s Olsen Gruin Gallery is planning an exhibition in response to the controversy, showcasing work by Aboriginal artists Kathy Maringka, Polly Ngale and Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi – curated by president of the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia, Adam Knight.

Last year, Hirst’s inclusion of his work Golden heads (Female) (2016) in his show ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ at Palazzo Grassi, Venice, was criticized for its alleged appropriation of a 14th century bronzehead from Ife, an ancient city in Nigeria.

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