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Artists Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

British Sculptor and painter

Movements: Young British Artists, Installation Art, Conceptual Art

Born: June 7, 1965 - Bristol, England

Quotes

"I want to make art, create objects that will have meaning forever. It's a big ambition, universal truth, but somebody's gotta do it."
Damien Hirst
"Art goes on in your head. If you said something interesting, that might be a title for a work of art and I'd write it down. Art comes from everywhere."
Damien Hirst
"I didn't just arrive on the planet going 'F*** you' to everybody, which is what a lot of people seem to think."
Damien Hirst
"I was taught to confront things you can't avoid. Death is one of those things. To live in a society where you're trying not to look at it is stupid because looking at death throws us back into life with more vigor and energy. The fact that flowers don't last forever makes them beautiful."
Damien Hirst
"Great art - or good art - is when you look at it, experience it and it stays in your mind. I don't think conceptual art and traditional art are all that different."
Damien Hirst
"I remember when you used to have your profession on your passport and I always thought that being a painter was the best one to be, because my heroes were Goya and Francis Bacon."
Damien Hirst
"I was brought up Catholic, and I felt the power of art from a very young age - seeing the brutality of all those images of flayed apostles and tortured saints was a pretty strong introduction."
Damien Hirst
"As an artist you're looking for universal triggers. You want it both ways. You want it to have an immediate impact, and you want it to have deep meanings as well. I'm striving for both."
Damien Hirst
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"The difference between art about death and actual death is that one's a celebration and the other's a dull fact."

Synopsis

One of the late twentieth century's greatest provocateurs and a polarizing figure in recent art history, Damien Hirst was the art superstar of the 1990s. As a young and virtually unknown artist, Hirst climbed far and fast, thanks to Charles Saatchi, an advertising tycoon who saw promise in Hirst's rotting animal corpses, and gave him a virtually unlimited budget to continue. His shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde, entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, wowed and repulsed audiences in 1991. In 1995 (the same year that he won the coveted Turner Prize) Hirst's installation of a rotting bull and cow was banned from New York by public health officials who feared "vomiting among the visitors." Hirst, the Sid Vicious of the art world (the Sex Pistols were his favorite band), is the logical outcome of a process of ultra-commodification and celebrity that began with Andy Warhol.

Key Ideas

From the outset of his career, Hirst devised a fool-proof strategy for grabbing the attention of the public and critics. Rotting corpses appalled and attracted museum visitors, who saw it as a kind of dare. Critics were equally appalled, not so much by the art as by the sky-high prices (often prearranged) paid for it. This kept Hirst at the center of the art world and augmented the value of his work, which continues to command some of the highest prices on the market.
Bloody bodies (martyrs and the death of Christ) and mothers and children (the Madonna and Child) are iconic themes in Western religious painting. Hirst, who was raised Catholic, cites this as an important dimension of his aesthetic sensibility.
Controversial as it is, Hirst's approach is firmly rooted in historical and contemporary sources. In its focus on death, it hearkens back to the memento mori (reminders of mortality) images in European still life. In using biological materials, he joins other contemporary artists of the late twentieth century, among them Robert Rauschenberg, with his taxidermied animals, Carolee Schneemann, who covered herself in raw meat, and Joseph Beuys, who constructed Fat Chair and other sculptures made of fat. Where Hirst differs from his historical and contemporary predecessors is in his display of entire corpses as visual spectacles.
Hirst is a great showman. One needn't be an art specialist to appreciate the thrill of seeing a dead shark up close. Not just for art world insiders, these strike a chord with many first-time visitors to museums, introducing them to the challenges of contemporary art in an engaging and immediate way.
Love him or hate him, Hirst was a visionary in anticipating the needs of the contemporary art market. One could argue, as some have, that this in itself is a form of art.

Most Important Art

With Dead Head (1991)
The artist, with a huge grin on his face, poses next to a severed head in a morgue. Hirst selected the photograph and enlarged it in 1991 for one of his early solo shows, though it had been taken several years earlier. He said of the photograph, "I wanted to show my friends, but I couldn't take all my friends there, to the morgue in Leeds. I'm absolutely terrified. I'm grinning, but I'm expecting the eyes to open and for it to go: 'Grrrrraaaaagh!'"

This early piece, indicative of his preoccupation with the relationship between life and death, is gruesome, satirical, and disturbing, evoking the conflicting feelings of repulsion and fascination many feel when confronted with the physical realities of death. In this way, Hirst's work returns us to the tradition of seventeenth-century Cabinets of Curiosities (specimens from the natural world, including parts of cadavers, arranged for public display), and acknowledges the eternal appeal of disturbing, even repulsive biological subjects.
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Biography

Childhood

Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England in 1965. His family moved to Leeds shortly after he was born, where he spent much of his childhood. After his parents separated when he was 12, he was raised exclusively by his mother. A rebellious teen, he was arrested twice for shoplifting and was not a strong student, however he showed promise in art, and eventually decided to study at university. Coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hirst took a keen interest in the punk music and social scene that was taking hold within British culture, gravitating toward its rejection of tradition and confrontational, gritty subject matter. He was a particular fan of the Sex Pistols - even though his mother once melted one of their LP's into a fruit bowl - and would reference them numerous times in his later work.

Early Training

Damien Hirst Biography

Hirst pursued a B.A. in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London from 1986 to 1989, though his application was rejected the first time he applied. He became intensely absorbed in his studies, and quickly became a prominent member of the student community at Goldsmiths, participating in numerous clubs and organizing student-run events. During his summer breaks, he worked part-time at a mortuary back home in Leeds, an experience that would strongly influence the themes and materials he later utilized as an artist. He occasionally drew specimens and cadavers (a traditional practice among artists in the west) and the job also provided him with the technical knowledge he would later use to transform biological specimens into sculptures.

During his second year at Goldsmiths, he was the lead organizer of a group exhibition called Freeze. The show would mark a turning point in his career. In addition to his own work, the show featured pieces by sixteen fellow students, including Fiona Rae, Sarah Lucas, and other emerging talents in postmodernist art. As a group, they would become known for their take-no-prisoners approach to art, employing shockingly unconventional materials and introducing concepts that challenged the definition of art.

Freeze was held in an inexpensive warehouse space in London's Docklands, then an unfashionable and far-flung neighborhood. Hirst had initially approached a number of commercial galleries, but found little interest in the project. Michael Craig-Martin, one of Hirst's professors, persuaded a number of influential people in the British art scene to attend the show. These included Norman Rosenthal of the British Academy, Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate museums and galleries, and Charles Saatchi, then-owner of the world's largest advertising firm who ran his own London gallery. Freeze and Hirst's subsequent warehouse shows helped to inspire Saatchi to sell off much of his significant collection of contemporary American art and invest in the new generation of British artists. He hunted down pieces from student shows and alternative gallery spaces, culminating in a series of exhibitions throughout the 1990s with the title Young British Artists. Saatchi's nomenclature would stick to Hirst and his peers, who are often still referred to as "the Young British Artists," or YBAs, despite many now being in their 40s and 50s.

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Damien Hirst Biography Continues

Mature Period

Damien Hirst Photo

In 1991, Saatchi became Hirst's patron, offering to fund whatever the artist chose to produce. The arrangement between the two men was quick to bear fruit. Saatchi's first Young British Artists show in 1992 brought Hirst international attention and acclaim. His first Saatchi-funded work was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a large installation piece featuring a preserved tiger shark in a large glass case. The piece earned Hirst a nomination for the Turner Prize, given to contemporary British artists under 50. Although he did not win, he would eventually claim the award in 1995. Almost immediately, he established himself as a divisive and controversial figure in the contemporary art world. His sculptures of preserved, dead animals have been his most famous and hotly debated pieces. For instance, in 1995, Two Fucking and Two Watching, a piece featuring a rotting cow and bull, was banned by New York public health officials, who feared "vomiting among the visitors." He continued to pursue shocking and challenging projects that provoked passionate, love-hate reactions from the art world. He took inspiration from his stint at the morgue, and also cited Francis Bacon - a British painter known for his unflinching, even gruesome depictions of torture, despair, and disfigurement - as a major influence. Bacon, in turn, viewed the installation and rhapsodized about it in a letter to his friend. He would become one of Hirst's major supporters.

By the late 1990s, Hirst had become a key figure in British art and culture. He directed the music video for "Country House" by the hugely popular band Blur, and wrote and directed a short film starring comedian Eddie Izzard. His lofty status within contemporary British art was cemented by 1997's Sensation show at London's Royal Academy, an event which critics have since regarded as the formal acceptance of the YBAs into the mainstream.

Current Work

Damien Hirst Portrait

From the late 1990s onward, several of the YBAs became mainstream celebrities in their own right, known for their swagger, swearing, and rock n' roll attitude. Hirst, the Sid Vicious of the bunch, was known for his drunken cocaine binges and outrageous behavior, among them meeting a curator naked, and allegedly removing his pants to insert a chicken bone into his foreskin at a bar in Dublin. As one Guardian reporter noted, "A night out for the Britpack was not really a night out until Hirst had taken down his trousers and waggled his willy in public." Hirst understood that fame and controversy were closely related for him, and played the part well. By the age of 33 (1988) he had written an autobiography, entitled I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now.

Hirst attracted further controversy when his business relationship with Saatchi ended in 2003. Hirst disapproved of the way Saatchi had exhibited his work at his new gallery space, and was particularly upset that a Mini Cooper decorated in the style of one of his spot paintings was being exhibited as a serious artwork. He pulled all his works from the show, which in turn led Saatchi to call off a major Hirst retrospective at the Tate Modern. The artist decided to end his relationship with his long-time patron, buying back a number of early works for a hefty sum and telling the British press, "I'm not Charles Saatchi's barrel-organ monkey... he only recognizes art with his wallet."

Hirst has had little difficulty finding buyers and audiences for his work since ending his relationship with Saatchi. While recognizing the inherent value of public spectacle, he was savvy enough to know that shock was not sustainable as a style, and though his work continues to be highly polarizing, he adapts and innovates to suit the demands of an audience that expects him to take risks. In September 2008, he took an unprecedented step for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, exclusively by auction at Sotheby's. It set a world record for the highest proceeds at auction by a living artist, 70.5 million pounds. Even as the global financial markets were crumbling, the auction helped make Hirst one of the richest artists in the world. Still, his work received mixed reviews. In 2009, he exhibited a group of paintings, No Love Lost, Blue Paintings, which provoked the ire of many critics, who labeled the pieces "dull" and "amateurish."

These days, he shows no signs of slowing down. He has become an active member of Britain's culinary scene, funding and designing a number of restaurants, some of which have been more successful than others. He also opened a store called Other Criteria, which produces affordable, limited-edition collector's pieces. In October 2015, he opened the Newport Street Gallery in south London, showcasing his personal collection of over 3,000 works of art.


Legacy

Controversy and success continue to be inseparable for Hirst, raising questions about the relationship between art and money that are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. A shrewd businessman, Hirst has transformed himself into a personal brand. He has something to sell to almost anyone. For patrons who prefer not to live with a dead shark, there are his "spot paintings," easy-to-look-at abstract canvases, based on the molecular structures of controlled pharmaceuticals. Reproductions of the notorious diamond-encrusted skull are available to consumers in an array of prices and sizes. He has also launched his own line of skateboards. In his relentlessly enterprising, unapologetically commercial approach to art, Hirst's career is closely aligned with that of fellow art star Jeff Koons, who has cited him as an influence. Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas, and Tracey Emin have also mentioned Hirst's impact on their work. Easily one of the most prominent artists of his generation, Hirst's success - along with that of the other YBAs - helped to create the conditions for the establishment of Tate Modern in 2000, which has since become the most-attended modern art museum in the world.

Hirst continues to be widely criticized by contemporary critics and artists who feel his work is overrated and pretentious. For instance, after his diamond skull (For the Love of God, 2007) failed to sell for its ?50 million asking price, British artist Laura Keeble created an inexpensive replica and photographed it in the trash outside London's White Cube gallery for a work she titled Forgotten Something? Similarly, in 2009, Spanish artist Eugenio Merino displayed a sculpture of Hirst in a glass case, shooting himself in the head, titled 4 The Love of Go(l)d. Merino, actually a great admirer of Hirst, told The Guardian, "I thought that, given that he thinks so much about money, his next work could be that he shot himself. Like that the value of his work would increase dramatically. Obviously, though, he would not be around to enjoy it." While Merino claims his work is as much tribute as critique, critics have also lambasted Hirst's open desire to cash in on his talent and extensive reliance on assistants in creating his work, particularly his "spot paintings." He is candid about the fact that he did not produce the majority of these paintings, once commenting to an interviewer, "The best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel [Howard]. She's brilliant. Absolutely f***ing brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel." His methods and subjects are controversial, but the impact of Hirst's creativity as an artist, curator, and entrepreneur will likely be felt within the art world for many years to come.

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Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Damien Hirst
Interactive chart with Damien Hirst's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Francis Bacon
Lucian Freud
Jeff Koons
Donald Judd
Marcel Duchamp

Friends

Michael Craig-Martin

Movements

Punk Art
Installation Art
Pop Art
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Years Worked: 1988 - present

Artists

Anish Kapoor
Sarah Lucas
Tracey Emin
Andres Serrano
Banksy

Friends

Takashi Murakami
Tracey Emin
Jeff Koons

Movements

Young British Artists
Conceptual Art
Installation Art



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Useful Resources on Damien Hirst

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Damien Hirst

By Ann Gallagher

Damien Hirst: Relics

By Francesco Bonami, Abdellah Karroum, Michael Craig-Martin, and Nicholas Serota

Damien Hirst: A Retrospective

By Nicholas James

More Interesting Books about Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst: 'What have I done? I've created a monster'

By Catherine Mayer
The Guardian (UK)
June 30th, 2015

Damien Hirst's moment has passed

By Mark Hudson
The Telegraph (UK)
October 9th, 2014

Drunk Hirst lost £20,000 Turner prize

By Hannah Summers
The Sunday Times (UK)
May 12, 2013

Hirst's Art Auction Attracts Plenty of Bidders, Despite Financial Turmoil

By Carol Vogel
The New York Times
September 15, 2008

More Interesting Articles about Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst - Freeze

Clip from a 1994 BBC documentary in which Hirst and his peers discuss his art and role in planning the 1988 exhibition

Damien Hirst on Charlie Rose

Hirst discusses international exhibition of spot paintings and his philosophy of art

Damien Hirst - The First Look

Longer piece detailing the 2012 Tate Modern retrospective

Blur - 'Country House'

1995 music video directed by Hirst

in pop culture
Young British Artists at play in the 1990s - in pictures

Contextualizes media coverage and rebellious reputation of YBAs in the 1990s

Marc Jacobs and Damien Hirst Team Up for Charity

Charitable t-shirt project with influential fashion designer

At least he wasn't serving pickled shark!

Hirst's restaurant gets a poor report from a health inspection

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised by Ruth Epstein
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Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
TheArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg
Carolee Schneemann
Carolee Schneemann
Carolee Schneemann
Carolee Schneemann is an American visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender. Her work is primarily characterized by research into visual traditions, taboos, and the body of the individual in relationship to social bodies. Schneemann's works have been associated with a variety of art classifications including Fluxus, Neo-Dada, the Beat Generation, and happenings.
TheArtStory: Carolee Schneemann
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys was a German multi- and mixed-media artist best known for incorporating ideas of humanism, social philosophy and politics into his art. Beuys practiced everything from installation and performance art to traditional painting and "social sculpture." He was continually motivated by the belief of universal human creativity.
TheArtStory: Joseph Beuys
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon was an Irish-born, English painter and one of the twentieth century's most celebrated and controversial existentialist artists. Bacon favored dark subject matter, often painting slightly abstracted, biomorphic figures, with bodies contorted or in the throes of madness. Painterly themes of Bacon's include the crucifixion, isolation and the mind's fragility. Bacon was also one of the few English artists of any prominence in modern and contemporary circles during the better part of the twentieth century.
TheArtStory: Francis Bacon
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is an American sculptor, painter and Neo-Pop artist, best known for mirror-finished stainless steel constructions of animals and everyday objects. Koons' works are often large public installations, in which viewers are invited to interact with his art.
TheArtStory: Jeff Koons
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. Sherman has raised challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.
TheArtStory: Cindy Sherman
Sarah Lucas
Sarah Lucas
Sarah Lucas
Sarah Lucas is a British artist who is known for her self-portraits. Her works feature found objects, collage, photography, puns, and "bawdy" humor. Through this humor Lucas critiques misogyny, voyeurism, and society's view of the female body by taking traditionally masculine constructions and turning them on their heads.
Sarah Lucas
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin is a British artist and a member of the famed YBA's (Young British Artists). She is best known for her provocative and sexually-charged works, often in the form of personal traumatic events exhibited in an unapologeticly and willfully to the public.
TheArtStory: Tracey Emin
Young British Artists
Young British Artists
Young British Artists
Young British Artists is the name given to a group of conceptual artist, painters, sculptors and installation artists based in the United Kingdon, most of whom attended Goldsmiths College in London. The title is derived from shows of that name staged at the Saatchi Gallery from 1992 onwards, which brought the artists to fame.
TheArtStory: Young British Artists
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
Installation Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory: Conceptual Art
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud is a German-British painter, and the grandson of Sigmund Freud. He devoted himself almost entirely to portraiture, applying richer colors and impasto brushstrokes. In 2000 he was commissioned to paint England's Queen Elizabeth II.
TheArtStory: Lucian Freud
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
Donald Judd was an early and influential Minimalist artist who made large-scale geometric objects, often of industrial materials and serially arranged on the floor or wall. He helped found the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where many key works of Minimalism are installed.
TheArtStory: Donald Judd
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Michael Craig-Martin
Michael Craig-Martin
Michael Craig-Martin
Michael Craig-Martin is a Dublin-born contemporary conceptual artist and painter. Craig-Martin is known not only for his integration of ordinary objects into his works (for example making drawings of household items), but also for teaching and fostering the talent of many artists who would become part of the Young British Artists movement.
Michael Craig-Martin
Punk Art
Punk Art
Punk Art
Punk art is a term referring to an American alternative (also referred to as "Downtown") art movement, roughly spanning 1969-1989. Punk art developed as an urban, counter-culture, bohemian equivalent to the Anglo-American Punk music scene; artists drew for their inspiration on Pop art, urban graffiti, ephemeral performance art, feminism, "Beat" poetry, advertising, rock-music album cover art, and other popular-culture phenomena.
Punk Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
TheArtStory: Pop Art
Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor is an Indian sculptor and conceptual artist. Considered one of the leading contemporary artists working today, Kapoor's work is characterized by its simple and organic forms, and uniformity of tone, such as Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millenium Park.
Anish Kapoor
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano is an American photographer and artist who has become notorious for his photos of corpses, as well as his controversial work "Piss Christ," a red-tinged photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass container of what was purported to be the artist's own urine.
Andres Serrano
Banksy
Banksy
Banksy
Banksy is a contemporary British Street/Graffiti artist who in recent years has received enormous attention for his politicized and guerilla-style wall murals and large installations (dubbed by some as "vandalism"). Banksy's style is characterized by its dark humor and a unique stenciling technique, now widely used among underground street artists, such as Shepard Fairey.
Banksy
Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami draws on popular culture to create his anime-like style he calls Superflat, notable for its flat planes of bright color. He is very interested in the confluence between high and low art, producing both commercial goods and fine art works.
Takashi Murakami
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