Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst (1965, Bristol, UK) is an English artist, entrepreneur and art collector. He is the most prominent member of the group known as the Young British Artists (or YBAs), who dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s. Internationally renowned, he is reportedly Britain’s richest living artist, with his wealth valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi, but increasing frictions came to a head in 2003 and the relationship ended.

Death is a central theme in Hirst’s works, while he also draws upon other themes that including life, love, loyalty and betrayal. The artist explores these concepts through a wide-ranging practice that includes installation, sculpture, painting and drawing, and his works often challenge the boundaries that exist between art, science and popular culture.

He rose to fame for the ‘Natural History’ series, artworks which present dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are suspended and preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehydeThe Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine (clear display case) aggressively stares out at the viewer, while Mother and Child Divided (1993) is a four-part sculpture that uses a bisected cow and calf. The works raise questions concerning the fragility of our existence and became icons of 1990s British art.

The artist’s paintings are renowned, with recognisable motifs including butterflies, spots and spun paint. The concept of the ‘Butterfly Paintings’ derived from Hirst’s first solo show ‘In and Out of Love’, 1991. The exhibition covered two floors; upstairs, pupae were attached to white paintings, with the butterflies actually hatching during the opening, and downstairs, whole dead butterflies were scattered over colourful canvases. His “spin paintings,” created on a spinning circular surface, and “spot paintings”, are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.

In September 2008, during the global banking crisis and on the same day that Lehman Brothers crashed, Hirst took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s by auction and by-passing his long-standing galleries. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde.

Damien Hirst’s solo exhibitions include Internal Affairs, ICA London, 1991; Astrup Fearnley Museum Oslo, 1997; The Agony and the Ecstasy, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, 2004; Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2005; For the Love of God Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2008 and Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, 2010/1. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions including the Venice Biennale in 1993 and 2003; Twentieth Century British Sculpture, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1996; Extreme Abstraction, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2005; Into Me / Out of Me, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2006; Re-Object, Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2007 and Color Chart: Reinventing Color 1950 to Today, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008. Receiving the DAAD fellowship in Berlin in 1994, he also won the Turner Prize in 1995.

Hirst conceived of the now famous ‘Freeze’ exhibition in 1988. Presented in a dilapidated London warehouse, the exhibition displayed his own works along with those of his friends from Goldsmiths College including Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Mat Collishaw. Rumour has it that Hirst sent a taxi to Charles Saatchi’s house to cajole him into attending the exhibition — a tactic that paid off with Saatchi collecting and championing many of the YBA artists.

In several instances since 1999, sources for certain of Hirst’s works have been challenged and contested as plagiarised, both in written articles by journalists and artists, and, in one instance, through legal proceedings which led to an out-of-court settlement. Hirst has made certain controversial statements to the media including, following the 11 September attacks, Hirst congratulated the attackers, stating, “You’ve got to hand it to them on some level.” On 18 September 2002, he “apologised unreservedly” for the remarks.



  1. I am not sure what I think of Damien Hirst’s work. But I do like that he is a well-known name that proves to the average person that an artist can be successful while still alive.

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