In 1983, Damien Hirst saw an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery of the collages of Francis Davison which ‘blew him away’. He spent the next two years trying to emulate them, in vain. As he discovered, although Davison’s works might look casually thrown together, they are in fact immaculately crafted orchestrations of colour, shape and tone. In the light of this experience, Hirst’s subsequent output can be regarded as his dispiriting revenge on all genuine artistic creation.
This surprising connection between modern British art’s most self-effacing aesthete and its most successful self-publicist merits analysis, not only because it’s so indicative of the state of current artistic values, but because it highlights Davison’s extraordinary achievement.