Damien Hirst (born June 7, 1965) is an English artist and the most prominent of the group that has been dubbed "Young British Artists" (or YBAs). Hirst dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s and is internationally renowned. 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 work. He became famous for a series in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been discected—in formaldehyde. His most iconic work is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine. Its sale in 2004 made him the world's second most expensive living artist after Jasper Johns. In June 2007, Hirst overtook Johns when his Lullaby Spring sold for £9.65 million at Sotheby's in London. On 30 August 2007, Hirst outdid his previous sale of Lullaby Spring with For The Love of God which sold for £50 million to an unknown investment group. He is also known for "spin paintings," made on a spinning circular surface, and "spot paintings," which are rows of randomly-coloured circles.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol and grew up in Leeds. His father was a motor mechanic/car salesman, who left the family when Hirst was 12. His mother, Mary, was a lapsed Catholic, who worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau and says she lost control of him when he was young. He was arrested on two occasions for shoplifting. However, Hirst sees her as someone who would not tolerate rebellion: she cut up his bondage trousers and heated one of his Sex Pistols vinyl records on the cooker to turn it into a fruit bowl. He says, "If she didn't like how I was dressed, she would quickly take me away from the bus stop." She did, though, encourage his liking for drawing, which was his only successful educational subject.
His art teacher "pleaded" for Hirst to be allowed to enter the sixth form, where he took two A-levels, achieving an "E" grade in art. He went to Leeds College of Art and Design, although the first time he applied he was refused admission. He worked for two years on London building sites, then studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London (1986–89), although again he was refused a place the first time he applied. While a student, Hirst had a placement at a mortuary, an experience that influenced his later themes and materials.
Hirst has admitted serious drug and alcohol problems during a ten year period from the early 1990s: "I started taking cocaine and drink ... I turned into a babbling fucking wreck." During this time he was renowned for his wild behaviour and extrovert acts, including for example, putting a cigarette in the end of his penis in front of journalists. He was an habitué of the high profile Groucho Club in Soho, London, and was banned on occasion for his behavior.
In 2002 Hirst gave up smoking and drinking, although the short-term result was that his wife Maia "had to move out because I was so horrible." He had met Joe Strummer (former lead singer of The Clash) at Glastonbury in 1995, becoming good friends and going on annual family holidays with him. Just before Christmas 2002, Strummer died of a heart attack. This had a profound effect on Hirst, who said, "It was the first time I felt mortal." He subsequently devoted a lot of time to founding a charity, Strummerville, to help young musicians. He has also taken an interest in Christianity.
He is married to a Californian, Maia Norman, and has three sons, Connor, born in 1995, Cassius, born in 2000 and Cyrus born in 2007. Since the birth of Connor, he has spent most of his time at his remote farmhouse, a 300 year old former inn, in north Devon.
In July 1988 in his second year at Goldsmiths College, Hirst was the main organiser of an independent student exhibition, Freeze, in a disused London Port Authority administrative block in London's Docklands. He gained sponsorship from the London Docklands Development Corporation. The show was visited by Charles Saatchi, Norman Rosenthal and (Sir) Nicholas Serota, thanks to the influence of Goldsmiths' lecturer Michael Craig-Martin. Hirst's own contribution to the show consisted of a cluster of cardboard boxes painted with household paint. After graduating Hirst was included in New Contemporaries show and in a group show at Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge. Seeking a gallery dealer, he first approached Karsten Schubert, but was turned down.
In 1990, in liaison with Hirst, his friend Carl Freedman, along with Billee Sellman, curated two influential "warehouse" shows, Modern Medicine and Gambler, in a Bermondsey former factory they designated "Building One." Saatchi arrived at the second show in a green Rolls Royce and, according to Freedman, stood open-mouthed with astonishment in front of (and then bought) Hirst's first major "animal" installation, A Thousand Years, consisting of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding off a rotting cow's head.
Hirst first gained general public notoriety that same year when one of his works was featured as a send-up in a British tabloid newspaper.
In 1991 his first solo exhibition, In and Out of Love, was held at the Woodstock Street Gallery in London; he also had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery in Paris. The Serpentine Gallery presented the first survey of the new generation of artists with the exhibition Broken English, in part curated by Hirst.
At this time Hirst met the up-and-coming art dealer Jay Jopling who has continued to represent him.
"Saatchi years" 1991–2003
Saatchi had offered to fund whatever artwork Hirst wanted to make, and the result was showcased in 1992 in the first Young British Artists exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in North London. Hirst's work was titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and was a shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine. It cost Saatchi £50,000. The shark had been caught by a commissioned fisherman in Australia and had cost £6,000. The exhibition also included A Thousand Years. As a result of the show, Hirst was nominated for that year's Turner Prize, but it was awarded to Grenville Davey.
In 1993, Hirst's first major international presentation was in the Venice Biennale with the work, Mother and Child Divided, a cow and a calf cut into sections and exhibited in a series of separate vitrines. He curated the show Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away in 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where he exhibited Away from the Flock (a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde). On 9 May, Mark Bridger, a 35 year old artist from Oxford, poured black ink into it, and retitled the work Black Sheep. He was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish, and was given two years' probation. The sculpture was restored at a cost of £1,000.
In 1995, Hirst won the Turner Prize. New York public health officials banned Two Fucking and Two Watching featuring a rotting cow and bull, because of fears of "vomiting among the visitors". There were solo shows in Seoul, London and Salzburg. He directed the video for the song "Country House" for the band Blur. No Sense of Absolute Corruption, his first solo show in the Gagosian Gallery in New York was staged the following year. In London the short film, Hanging Around, was shown—written and directed by Hirst and starring Eddie Izzard. In 1997 the Sensation exhibition opened at the Royal Academy in London. A Thousand Years and other works by Hirst were included, but the main controversy occurred over other artists' works. It was nevertheless seen as the formal acceptance of the YBAs into the establishment.
In 1998, his critically-acclaimed autobiography/art book, I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, was published. With Alex James of the band Blur and actor Keith Allen, he formed the band Fat Les, achieving a number 2 hit with a raucous football-themed song Vindaloo, followed up by Jerusalem with the London Gay Men's Chorus. Hirst also painted a simple colour pattern for the Beagle 2 probe. This pattern was to be used to calibrate the probe's cameras after it had landed on Mars. He turned down the British Council's invitation to be Britain's representative at the 1999 Venice Biennale because "it didn't feel right". He sued British Airways claiming a breach of copyright over an advert design with coloured spots for its low budget airline, Go.
In 2000, Hirst's sculpture Hymn (which Saatchi had bought for a reported £1m) was given pole position at the show Ant Noises (an anagram of "sensation") in the Saatchi Gallery. Hirst was then sued himself for breach of copyright over this sculpture (see Appropriation below). Hirst sold three more copies of his sculpture for similar amounts to the first. In September 2000, in New York, Larry Gagosian held the Hirst show, Damien Hirst: Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings. 100,000 people visited the show in 12 weeks and all the work was sold.
On September 10, 2002, on the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hirst said in an interview with BBC News Online:
The thing about 9/11 is that it's kind of like an artwork in its own right ... Of course, it's visually stunning and you've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible - especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing." The next week, following public outrage at his remarks, he issued a statement through his company, Science Ltd:
I apologise unreservedly for any upset I have caused, particularly to the families of the victims of the events on that terrible day."
In April 2003, the Saatchi Gallery opened at new premises in County Hall, London, with a show that included a Hirst retrospective. This brought a developing strain in his relationship with Saatchi to a head (one source of contention had been who was most responsible for boosting their mutual profile). Hirst disassociated himself from the retrospective to the extent of not including it in his CV. He was angry that a Mini car that he had decorated for charity with his trademark spots was being exhibited as a serious artwork. The show also scuppered a prospective Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern. He said Saatchi was "childish" and "I'm not Charles Saatchi's barrel-organ monkey ... He only recognises art with his wallet ... he believes he can affect art values with buying power, and he still believes he can do it."
In September 2003 he had an exhibition Romance in the Age of Uncertainty at Jay Jopling's White Cube gallery in London, which made him a reported £11m, bringing his wealth to over £35m. It was reported that a sculpture, Charity, had been sold for £1.5m to a Korean, Kim Chang-Il, who intended to exhibit it in his department store's gallery in Seoul. The 22 foot (6.7m) 6 ton sculpture was based on the 1960s Spastic Society's model, which is of a girl in leg irons holding a collecting box. In Hirst's version the collecting box is shown broken open and is empty.
Charity was exhibited in the centre of Hoxton Square, in front of the White Cube. Inside the gallery downstairs were 12 vitrines representing Jesus's disciples, each case containing mostly gruesome, often blood-stained, items relevant to the particular disciple. At the end was an empty vitrine, representing Christ. Upstairs were four small glass cases, each containing a cow's head stuck with scissors and knives. It has been described as an "extraordinarily spiritual experience" in the tradition of Catholic imagery. At this time Hirst bought back 12 works from Saatchi (a third of Saatchi's holdings of Hirst's early works), via Jay Jopling, for a total fee reported to exceed £8 million. Hirst had sold these pieces to Saatchi in the early 1990s for a considerably smaller sum, his first installations costing less than £10,000.
On May 24, 2004, a fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including 17 of Hirst's, although the sculpture Charity survived, as it was outside in the builder's yard.
In July 2004 Hirst commented about Saatchi, "I respect Charles. There's not really a feud. If I see him, we speak, but we were never really drinking buddies."
In late 2004, Hirst designed a cover for the Band Aid 20 charity single featuring the "Grim Reaper" with an African child perched on his knee. This was not to the liking of the record company executives and was replaced by reindeer in the snow standing next to a child.
In December 2004, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was sold by Saatchi to American collector Steve Cohen, for $12 million (£6.5 million), in a deal negotiated by Hirst's New York agent, Gagosian. Cohen, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, then donated the work to MoMA, New York. Sir Nicholas Serota had wanted to acquire it for the Tate Gallery, and Hugo Swire, Shadow Minister for the Arts, tabled a question to ask if the government would ensure it stayed in the country. Current export regulations do not apply to living artists.
In March 2005, Hirst exhibited 30 paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. These had taken 3 1/2 years to complete. They were closely based on photos, mostly by assistants (who were rotated between paintings) but with a final finish by Hirst.
In February 2006, Hirst opened a major show in Mexico, at the Hilario Galguera Gallery, called The Death of God, Towards a Better Understanding of Life without God aboard The Ship of Fools. The exhibition attracted considerable media coverage as Hirst's first show in Latin America.
In June 2006 Hirst exhibited alongside the work of Francis Bacon (Triptychs) at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London. Included in the exhibition was the seminal vitrine, A Thousand Years (1990), and four triptychs: paintings, medicine cabinets and a new formaldehyde work entitled The Tranquility of Solitude (For George Dyer), influenced by Francis Bacon.
A Thousand Years, one of Hirst's most provocative and engaging works, contains an actual life cycle. Maggots hatch inside a white minimal box, turn into flies, then feed on a bloody, severed cow's head on the floor of a claustrophobic glass vitrine. Above, hatched flies buzz around in the closed space. Many meet a violent end in an insect-o-cutor; others survive to continue the cycle. A Thousand Years was admired by Francis Bacon, who in a letter to a friend a month before he died, wrote about the experience of seeing the work at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Margarita Coppack notes that "It is as if Bacon, a painter with no direct heir in that medium, was handing the baton on to a new generation." Hirst has openly acknowledged his debt to Bacon, absorbing the painter's visceral images and obsessions early on and giving them concrete existence in sculptural form with works like A Thousand Years.
In May 2007, Beyond Belief, an exhibition of Hirst's new work, opened at the White Cube gallery in London. The centre-piece, a Memento Mori titled For The Love of God, was a human skull recreated in platinum and adorned with 8,601 diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. Approximately £15,000,000 worth of diamonds were used. It was modelled on an 18th century skull, but the only surviving human part of the original is the teeth.
In June 2007, Hirst gained the auction record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist — his Lullaby Spring, a 3 metre (10 foot) wide steel cabinet with 6,136 pills, sold for 19.2 million dollars.
On August 30, 2007, For the Love of God was sold for £50,000,000 (100 million dollars or 75 million euros).
Although Hirst participated physically in the making of early works, he has always needed assistants (Carl Freedman helped with the first vitrines), and now the volume of work produced necessitates a "factory" setup, akin to Andy Warhol's or a Renaissance studio. This has led to questions about authenticity, as was highlighted in 1997, when a spin painting that Hirst said was a "forgery" appeared at sale, although he had previously said that he often had nothing to do with the creation of these pieces.
Hirst said that he only painted five spot paintings himself because, "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it"; he described his efforts as "shite"—"They're shit compared to ... the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel. She's brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel." He also describes another painting assistant who was leaving and asked for one of the paintings. Hirst told her to, "'make one of your own.' And she said, 'No, I want one of yours.' But the only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.'" By February 1999, two assistants had painted 300 spot paintings.
Hirst sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and that, as the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist:
“Art goes on in your head," he says. "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. It's your response to your surroundings. There are on-going ideas I've been working out for years, like how to make a rainbow in a gallery. I've always got a massive list of titles, of ideas for shows, and of works without titles. ”
Hirst is also known to volunteer repair work on his projects after a client has made a purchase. For example, this service was offered in the case of the suspended shark purchased by Steven A. Cohen.
Biographical information from Wikipedia