A Study in Contrasts

The Virgin Mother
The Virgin Mother seongmoja

Catching up on my reading last night, I happened upon two unrelated articles that illustrate what a wide array of materials and substances inspire artists.

British artist Damien Hirst has always been drawn to audacious subjects. He made his foray onto the art scene by submersing various animals—sharks, sheep, cows—in display cases filled with formaldehyde.

But many were taken aback when the news circulated that the inflated asking price of $100 million of his most recent work—a diamond-encrusted skull sculpture—had been met. For the Love of God, as the piece is titled, has made Hirst the record-holder for priciest living artist on the open market. The veracity of the purchase has come into question, but even if the sale turns out to be a hoax, the piece is an ostentatious, titillating example of investing far too much in our consumer-driven world.

A platinum-cast skull bedecked in 8,601 diamonds cut and crafted by the same firm that made the Crown Jewels, Hirst’s bauble is quite a contrast to the materials used by a well-known folk painter hailing from Alabama, who died early this month.

Jimmy Lee Sudduth had an earthly palate. As he would say, he was partial to “sweet mud." His paintings are known for their raised, often patterned surfaces, and this effect was achieved by applying thick layers of mud combined with an adhesive—syrup, sugar, Coca-Cola—to wood panels. Sudduth incorporated color by adding berries, flower petals or vegetables to the mix.

It’s incongruous that the oeuvres of these two artists were developed contemporaneously: exalted riches or humble earth, there’s no telling what catches an artist’s fancy.

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