Back in my hard-drinking days in the Colony Room, at the time of the club's 50th anniversary in 1998, the club held an anniversary exhibition at a small gallery in Laystall St EC1. Bacon, of course, was dead by this time in reality but still very much extant in the minds of many of my fellow members; 'Francis' or more often 'dear Francis' figured in more inebriated conversations than I can recall. Damien's fame was at its zenith, and the ducks in Formaldehyde that he contributed to the exhibition set the seal on a show that included pieces from George Melly and Lisa Stansfield as well as Patrick Caulfield, Marc Quinn and Tracey Emin. In a forward to the catalogue John McEwen wrote "Damien Hirst is clearly the Colony's new Bacon. Once again the club has the most charismtic artist of the day as its most loyal and generous supporter." And then he gave up drinking.
Damien's new exhibition opens today at the Wallace Collection, the first major development in his artistic evolution since that first creative impetus from the 1990s petered out into factory manufactured spin and butterfly paintings. He's chosen paint on canvas, not made by machine but from his own brush. And critics have not so far been kind. Bacon's influence peeps out from the pieces in a sort of homage to careless hedonism, but Bacon's creative drive was the periodic intoxicated rise from his gilded gutter to expunge the debauch in a frenzy of work. Perhaps the Osborn and Little wallpapers and Farrow & Ball paint samples for a new country house don't catalyse creativity in the same way. Perhaps the lack of alcoholic remorse is at fault. In lifestyle terms at least, Damien is no Francis. Still, worth a look.