Nova Scotian artist Colleen Wolstenholme is suing British artist Damien Hirst for copyright. The suit was filed in the New York Southern District on June 10.
According to the court documents, Wolstenholme claims that a selection of Hirst’s jewellery mirrors her work.
Both the artists’ jewellery designs feature charms inspired by pharmaceutical pills. Wolstenholme alleges that this series currently for sale in Hirst’s online shop are copies of her pill jewellery.
The suit says that Wolstenholme is best known for this jewelry, as well as oversized sculptures of prescription drugs—works she began selling around 1996. The artist had a long-standing interest in the subject of drugs, particularly in their impact on society and social relationships. This became the reasoning behind her selection of pills such as antidepressants and psychotropic drugs.
The court document explains Wolstenholme’s inspirations extensively, including her intended symbolism. The artist “deliberately” cast her works in gold and sterling silver “in order to combine three very powerful cultural symbols: femininity, drugs, and money. Jewelry is typically female; pills are usually drugs that, once ingested, create dependence and exert power over a body; and gold or silver are the basis from which monetary value is derived."
Wolstenholme’s suit demands the restraint of further sales, and financial compensation for past earnings. The pieces on Hirst’s site sell for $2,400 to $25,000 (U.S.) and have been available since 2004.
Wolstenholme currently sells her works through Montreal Gallery Art Mûr. Born in Antigonish, she graduated from NSCAD in 1986 with a Bachelor of Fine Art and was also a professor at the university. She was a finalist for the 2002 Sobey Art Award.
Wolstenholme has showcased her pharmaceutical jewellery in national and international gallery exhibitions. According to a text by Sarah Wilkinson on the Art Mûr’s gallery website, the pharmaceutical works (ranging from jewellery to painting, sculpture, digital collage and embroidery) “challenge the way that drug companies market pills to solve everything while side effects often leave their consumers numb and emotionally inept.”
Damien Hirst is an internationally renowned artist—reportedly England’s richest living artist. Wolstenholme’s suit will not be the first time Hirst faces accusations of plagiarism, for pieces ranging from his diamond-encrusted skull to a crucified sheep.
None of Wolstenholme's claims have been tested in court.